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The United States’ Interests in the Indo-Pacific

By ADM Phil Davidson | U.S. Indo-Pacific Command | Feb. 14, 2020

ADM Phil Davidson
Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command

The United States' Interests in the Indo-Pacific
Lowy Institute, Sydney, Australia

13 February, 2020

As Prepared for Delivered 

 

Thank you, Michael, for the kind introduction, and for hosting us here at the Lowy Institute.

On behalf of the entire USINDOPACOM team, let me begin by offering our deepest condolences for those lost in the devastating bushfires here in Australia.

We are grateful for the empathy given to the families of those brave Americans who were lost – veterans all.

The United States remains committed to providing assistance to the people of Australia in the ongoing relief efforts across the nation. This is what friends and allies do.

The United States will always be here to support you, just as you have always been there to do the same for us.

We take great pride in the fact that our troops have fought side-by-side in every major military conflict over the last century, beginning with the First World War.

Indeed, the United States has no better friend than Australia. And Australia has no better friend than the United States.

This year, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Together, our men and women fought during Guadalcanal, Coral Sea, and Darwin, pushing back enemy advances and preventing an invasion of the Australian continent.

The Battle of Darwin on February 19th, 1942, was the largest single attack on Australia in history, with over 260 enemy aircraft. Our allied forces suffered the loss of 16 airmen (9 of them American) and 88 USS Percy sailors, the only ship lost during the battle.

Aussies and Americans fought as one to set others free. It was the crucible that formed our bond, that built trust and confidence in our friendship, and led to our Mutual Defense Treaty.

Our unbreakable alliance is an anchor for peace and security in the region and around the globe. It runs deeper than security cooperation or the military. We share a common language (more or less)…a common set of values, and a deep and abiding respect for liberty.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Morrison, Foreign Minister Payne, and Defense Minister Reynolds in Canberra.

The resounding theme throughout the dialogue was the fundamental belief that we are stronger together.

Just like Darwin in 1942, the United States is all-in in the Indo-Pacific – where the stakes could not possibly be any higher.

In fact, The United States is not bluffing, and we are certainly not folding. We are doubling down on our bets in the Indo-Pacific and guaranteeing the payouts.

Allow me to deal out a few examples of our commitment here in the Indo-Pacific, announced relatively recently:

1. The United States’ reassurance to the people of Japan in 2014 that an attack on the Senkaku Islands would invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty, honoring our 60-plus year commitment to the people of Japan.

This stands as a clear pledge to our Japanese ally – and to the region that our bonds to the Indo-Pacific are only growing stronger.

2. U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo’s reaffirmation less than one year ago that any armed attack on Philippine sovereign entities in the South China Sea would trigger our mutual defense obligations.

His promise underscores our strong security partnership with the Philippines, and serves as a beacon of peace and stability in the face of increased aggression, especially by PRC military forces in the South China Sea.

3. In September of last year, the United States and Singapore renewed our long-standing memorandum of understanding (MOU), extending U.S. use of defense-related facilities and logistics support as provided by Singapore.

The MOU, as announced by President Trump and Signapore’s Prime Minister Lee highlights the deep security ties between the U.S. and Singapore and the guarantees of our long-term presence in the gateway of the Indo-Pacific.

4. Secretary Pompeo’s announcement last August that the United States would expand our agreements with the Freely Associated States (Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands) and re-open negotiations to build on our growing economic relationships.

This was prefaced by the historic inaugural meeting between all three Presidents of the Freely Associated States and President Trump in Washington last May signifies U.S. resolve in our close cooperation and support for these nations.

5. The United States deep cooperation with the Pacific Island Nations and commitment to supply dedicated resources, develop capabilities, enhance capacity-building, and provide advanced training.

Last year, the U.S. pledged more than 100 million U.S. dollars in new assistance to the Pacific Islands alone, on top of approximately 350 million dollars that U.S. agencies already invest annually to build a more prosperous future for the region’s people.

6. Lastly, the affirmation – repeatedly made by the last three U.S. Secretaries of Defense – including Secretary Esper just this month – that the Indo-Pacific is the priority theater for the United States.

And I could go on. Each of these steps exemplifies our deep, enduring, and growing commitment to the region.

Indeed, we are betting it on a free and open future, together, alongside our allies and partners.

It is this commitment that provides the cornerstone of our vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

There are many in the region who share that vision, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand, India, the U.K., France, and Canada. Even ASEAN – under the leadership of Indonesia’s initiative – has put forth a vision for a Free, Open, and Inclusive Indo-Pacific.

The United States’ Indo-Pacific Strategy is very much a whole-of-nation approach, and is rooted in the values that have underpinned peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific for decades.

It is centered on the idea that free societies respect individual rights and liberties, the promotion of good governance, and adherence to the shared values of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It means free nations do not have to choose who they partner with and trade with out of fear or coercion. Instead, they are free to exercise their sovereignty – fundamentally, their choice.

The idea of a Free and Open Indo-Pacifc affirms that all nations should enjoy unfettered, open access to the seas and airways upon which our people and economies depend.

This openness also applies to the cyberspace and space domains, which provide critical avenues for future global prosperity and should be dictated by the rules of shared principles.

According to shared principles, nations are able to have open investment environments, transparent agreements with one another, protection of intellectual property rights, and fair and reciprocal trade.

After all, the Indian and Pacific Oceans do not separate us. The vastness of the seas are not borders…they are not boundaries…they are what bind us all together, bringing mutual benefits and growth, and shared success.

Despite the many cultural differences across the region, our principled values, our collective interests, and our mutual security concerns will drive us forward.

This is how the U.S. has approached the Indo-Pacific region throughout our 240-plus year history, and we remain rooted in these principles moving forward.

And you all know as well as I, that we – all of the nations of the Indo-Pacific – are in a strategic competition within this region.

This is a competition between a Beijing-centric order and a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

After all, the Communist Party of China is actively seeking to supplant the established rules-based international order, in order to dictate new international norms and behaviors, and new relationships to the region.

Indeed, this very public goal is to establish norms driven, guided, and enforced by the Party in Beijing.

Beijing’s approach is pernicious. The Party uses coercion, influence operations, and military and diplomatic threats to bully other states to accommodate the Communist Party of China’s interests.

These actions often directly threaten the sovereignty of other nations and undermine regional stability.

In pursuit of this vision, the Communist Party of China employs a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic, and military tools, as well as a vast propaganda machine, to garner the support and influence necessary to reshape relationships and gain accesses in the region that are more favorable to the Party’s interests.

The Communist Party of China is looking to change the world order to one where Chinese national power is more important than international law; a system where the “strong do what they will and the weak do what they must.”

Through excessive territorial claims, debt-trap diplomacy, violations of international agreements, theft of intellectual property, military intimidation, and outright corruption, the Communist Party of China seeks to control the flow of trade, finance, communications, politics, and the way of life throughout the Indo-Pacific – where nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will live in 15 years.

Countries that establish closer ties to the Communist Party of China with the expectation that the move will stimulate economic growth and infrastructure development often find themselves worse off in the end.

The good news is that the Indo-Pacific is now wise to these methods, and friends and partners to the U.S. and Australia are now frequently calling for advice when it comes to dealing with the Communist Party of China’s entreaties.

These calls were far less frequent five years ago. I am encouraged now that the principled values, the interests, and the mutual concerns for our liberty, are resonating across the region.

Let me be clear: the U.S. does not seek conflict with China – nor do we seek to decouple our economy with China. These are talking points for China.

Furthermore, the United States has no intention or desire to restrain Chinese economic growth or prosperity.

Our global economy is deeply intertwined, and we – like Australia – understand the importance of a global market.

With that in mind, the global economy must respect sovereignty and the rule of law, use responsible business practices, and operate with transparency.

I have traveled throughout the region to meet with political and military leaders – as well as those in business – and many believe they are being forced to choose between economic prosperity and relations with China or a secure partnership with the United States.

Let me assure you, our vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific recognizes the linkages between the economy and security that are part of the competitive landscape throughout the region.

Inclusiveness-for-all is fundamental to the idea of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, and over the last 70 years it has resulted in the remarkable regional economic development enjoyed today. And one from which China and other economies in the region have benefited.

The global community wants to see a vibrant, economically strong China that honors its international agreements and is a responsible stakeholder in the rules-based international order.

As the Communist Party of China’s malign influence expands globally, the alliance between the United States and Australia is even more critical.

Indeed, the United States has deep ties with Australia that highlight our shared values, and our commitment to enduring friendships and to bolstering prosperity in the region. It is the main reason I am here this week.

The U.S. – as is Australia – is committed to deepening the people-to-people ties, enhancing security cooperation and infrastructure projects, and enabling private sector led economic development in the region.

We continue to expand our support to regional security by broadening our military exercises, increasing the number of U.S. defense attachés in the Pacific Islands Chain, and increasing our U.S. National Guard State Partnership Programs throughout the Indo-Pacific.

We are working closely with Australia to make sure our efforts are complementary throughout the region as evidenced by specific cooperative efforts in Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Australia and the United States enjoy the benefits associated with information sharing at the highest levels as FVEY partners.

This past October, defense officials from Australia, Japan, and the United States met in Hawaii to sign a trilateral information sharing arrangement or “TISA”.

The TISA will further enhance the strategic trilateral relationship and support peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific through rapid information sharing, to enable higher capability defense exercises and more integrarted operations among the three nations.

We are encouraged by – and support Australia’s direct commitments to the Pacific Island Nations as well. I will mention one briefly, the recently completed Coral Sea Cable System.

This submarine fiber optic cable system links Australia to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea – a game-changing advance in technology designed to improve access to critical information for our partners in the region.

Additionally, I must commend Australia for heavily investing in the Pacific Fusion Center, an Australian government-funded analytical center supporting Pacific Islands Forum members.

The Pacific Fusion Center will help raise the awareness and collectively combat challenges in the region, like illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and human and narcotics trafficking.

Like Australia, the United States remains committed to providing dedicated resources, developing capabilities, and training personnel to support the current and future security challenges facing the Pacific Islands. We are here to help.

I met with General Campbell this week as well. We continue to advance our relationship with the Australian Defense Force on multiple levels.

This year marks the ninth consecutive iteration of the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D), an initiative designed to develop enhanced interoperability, capacity, and warfighting for combined and joint operations between Australia and the U.S.

MRF-D enables U.S. Marines and the ADF to effectively train, exercise, and operate with allies and partners to enhance regional security and capacity building through the rotation of a full Marine Air Ground Task Force of up to 2,500 U.S. Marines.

Our force posture initiatives also include the Enhanced Air Cooperation (EAC), which incorporates 5th generation aircraft integration and joint bomber activities.

EAC improves interoperability and expands aviation capabilities between the air forces of Australia and the United States.

Shifting from initiatives to exercises, Talisman Sabre stands as one of the premier military exercises in the region, and has been increasing in complexity, size, and scope during each iteration.

The joint biennial exercise between our two nations involves more than 33,000 personnel and demonstrates our dedication to improving combined operations and combat readiness.

Talisman Sabre reflects the closeness of our alliance and strength of the enduring military relationship.

I would be remiss if I did not mention our strong economic bonds include bilateral investment of more than $1 Trillion (USD) between our two nations.

Each year, Australia spends roughly $480 Billion (USD) in the United States, which equals approximately one quarter of its total outbound investment.

Australians also invest heavily in the U.S. education sector as the United States is the largest destination for Aussies studying abroad.

The United States is Australia’s largest foreign investor, with over $630 Billion USD in accumulated investment.

Foreign direct investment is inherently enduring and speaks to the depth of our relationship and our collective opportunity.

The United States invests heavily in the Australian technology market as well: in defense, aerospace, space, and biotechnologies.

U.S. research and development investments in the Australian market total more than $670 Million (USD) annually, focusing on the pharmaceutical, medical, and high-tech industries that show no signs of slowing down in the future.

And we look to Australia as a leader in developing frontier technologies, such as quantum, robotics, machine-learning, and artificial intelligence.

More widely, our U.S. economic investments in the region include the U.S. BUILD (Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development) Act, which created the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.

These developments address the infrastructure challenges necessary for sustained economic growth and development in the region, unleashing the strength of private enterprise.

The BUILD Act has the potential to be the key difference-maker in terms of our United States’ whole-of-government strategic investment.

The Blue Dot Network is a multi-stakeholder initiative – spearheaded by Australia, Japan, and the United States – designed to bring together like-minded governments, the private sector, and civil society under shared values to advance global infrastructure development.

This inclusive network will evaluate infrastructure development projects around the globe on high standards like transparency, financial viability, and environmental sustainability.

The Blue Dot seal of approval will confirm quality infrastructure development and adherence to global best practices in order to combat more corrupt approaches to infrastructure investment that undermine prosperity for all of us.

Blue Dot projects respect the rule of law, build local capacity, ensure debt sustainability, and meet high labor standards to address the region’s growing infrastructure demands.

We encourage all nations to join Australia and the United States in this initiative.

I believe the economic interests of the Indo-Pacific region are converging, as a vast majority of nations support a globalized economy and understand the way of the future is here, in the Indo-Pacific.

These economic relationships are rooted – must be rooted in the principles that provide protection of our intellectual property, ensure free trade on a level playing field, and offer protection to labor and the environment.

Our collective economic stability is a key anchor of strength, and access to U.S. markets and capital have been a pillar of peace and security throughout the Indo-Pacific.

Our mutual security interests are key to stabilizing the environment for business investment, both near- and long-term, through our wide-spread security engagement, our operations, and our capacity-building efforts in the region.

Our goal is to help enable all the countries of this region to be able to be full participants in a transparent global economy, able to trade and invest freely and competitively with whomever they want.

To ensure this outcome, the United States will continue to commit its resources – military, economic, diplomatic, and educational. This will be to the benefit of ourselves, Australia, and every country in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

I will end with one final anecdote that should hit home.

In recent years, the Communist Party of China has at various points slowed or banned Australian exports going through Chinese ports.

Beijing has shown a willingness to intervene in free markets and to hurt Australian companies, simply because the Australian government has exercised its sovereign right to protect its national security.

These episode show how the Communist Party of China uses its economic advantages to force other governments to reverse positions towards agreements that benefit China.

It stands as just one of the countless examples of the pernicious ways in which China conducts business and tries to coerce outcomes around the region.

I am optimistic that the region is not only waking up to China’s aggressive behavior, but more importantly, taking a stand against it.

Indeed, together, we must position our alliance for the next century, as we cannot simply rely on our shared history.

Our interconnected future will be based on a set of principles, backed by a diplomatic effort, economic investment, and combat credible deterrent provided by the U.S., Australia, and a strong network of allies and partners.

The United States stands by our allies and like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific…in competition, in crisis, and as history has proven over the past 100 years, in conflict.

I said it at the beginning, and I will say it again, Australia has no better friend than the U.S…and the U.S. absolutely has no better friend than Australia.

I thank you for your time today, and for your interest in the Indo-Pacific – the most critical region on the planet.

May God bless the Commonwealth of Australia, the United States of America, and may God bless the next 100 years of mateship between our two great nations.

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