ADM Phil Davidson
Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command
Indo-Pacific Landpower Conference 2020
19 May 2020
As Prepared for Delivery
Aloha, and thank you for the introduction, Candace.
Paul, give me a thumbs up to confirm that you are receiving my audio and video from Fort Shafter?
Good. I want to take the opportunity to commend General LaCamera and his team for demonstrating ingenuity in putting this critical event together virtually.
You easily could have postponed this conference, or even canceled it in light of the current travel restrictions and other challenges all nations are facing across the Indo-Pacific as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, USARPAC took the initiative in bringing all of us together over this two-day period to strengthen relationships and to build upon the mutual trust that exists between our nations.
Our entire USINDOPACOM team remains deeply committed to strengthening allies and partners throughout the region in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the earliest reports of the spread of the virus, we have maintained frequent communication and coordination with our counterparts across the Indo-Pacific.
Certainly, across the globe, all nations are experiencing a number of similar challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, beyond the tragic loss of life.
Of course, our militaries are facing many unique challenges associated with the virus that complicate our ability to maintain operations and training at all levels.
Nevertheless, we will continue to adapt and overcome these challenges day-by-day, maintaining flexibility in the face of crisis.
We remain committed to the security and stability of the region and are postured and ready to ensure a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
COVID-19 has changed the way we do business, and more importantly, the way we will do business for the foreseeable future, perhaps for years to come.
And while we continue to transition to operating in this new normal, our team is committed to the following three priorities amid the COVID-19 pandemic:
First and foremost, the health and safety of our service members, our civilian employees, our contractors, and certainly, our families.
Protecting our people has remained my top priority from the beginning. We continue to take all prudent measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, while also ensuring the Joint Force is trained and ready to defend the nation.
We are building upon our success in developing comprehensive plans to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on our forces.
We learned a great deal from exercise COBRA GOLD earlier this year, demonstrating effective protocols and protective measures to minimize risk to force.
Safety mitigation efforts – such as a mandatory 14-day restriction of movement (ROM) period for returning troops – resulted in zero reported COVID-19 cases from the 18 participating nations following the highly successful exercise.
We have implemented similar quarantine periods for individuals prior to deployment, followed by medical screening and evaluation, to prevent the potential for outbreaks.
Additionally, all DoD units are adjusting to social distancing requirements, mask wearing protocols, and enhanced sanitation and cleaning procedures to prevent the spread of the virus across the force.
All of these efforts are critical to protecting our most valuable asset, our people.
The second priority is our readiness to do our mission in the short- and long-term.
We are carefully evaluating our operations, exercises, and training events, and taking the necessary precautions to mitigate the risks surrounding COVID-19.
Indeed, the pandemic has had a notable impact on our exercise programs in the region, including multi-lateral, bilateral, and U.S-only events.
Over the past few months, we have cancelled 21 exercises, postponed 16 of them, and refined the scope of 7 more.
Despite these numbers, I am optimistic about our training and readiness opportunities going forward as we look for alternative solutions to execute these invaluable events – which are critical to readiness and enhancing interoperability alongside allies and partners.
Following weeks of careful coordination between participating nations and the State of Hawaii, the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise will indeed proceed this summer.
The deliberate analysis and decision-making calculus are permitting the world’s premier multilateral maritime exercise to proceed with modifications, including altering the dates and focusing on the at-sea portions in an effort to avoid risk to the local community in Hawaii.
Marine Rotational Forces-Darwin (or MRF-D) between Australia and the United States was scheduled to begin earlier in the year as the pandemic began to spread throughout the region.
The prudent decision to postpone this critical bilateral exercise with one of our closest allies paid off and our U.S. Marines are now preparing to deploy to Australia to begin the exercise.
Both of these examples demonstrate a shift from previous iterations over the span of several years in response to the current challenges that exist due to COVID-19.
More importantly, these examples stand as successful models to emulate going forward as we seek to ensure readiness of our force in the short- and long-term.
We must remain committed to operating, exercising, and training together in the region – our actions in the short-term will improve mid- and long-term readiness.
The third priority is our ability to support the whole-of-government effort in the United States, in our U.S. territories, and alongside our allies and partners in the region, when called upon.
We are focused on providing military manpower and equipment – both the capacity and capability – to state and local authorities to help combat COVID-19.
USINDOPACOM has responsibility for the State of Hawaii plus 11 U.S. territories. We also have the task to support the Freely Associated States with whom we have direct defense obligations.
USARPAC is the supported commander for our defense support of civil authorities (DSCA) tasks. GEN LaCamera and his team maintain close liaison with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 9 to identify emerging requirements and begin the sourcing process.
We are prepared to provide support throughout the region: both DSCA and foreign humanitarian assistance (FHA) missions, if required.
We are supporting our allies and partners’ COVID-19 response activities by providing critical medical equipment, transporting humanitarian cargo, and sharing the expertise of our DoD testing-labs across the theater.
My staff at USINDOPACOM is coordinating 130 humanitarian assistance projects through our Oversea Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) allocation at a value of over 1.8 million dollars, and we are now looking to accelerate this effort.
The past year serves as a staunch reminder of how natural disasters and pandemics can affect the security and prosperity of all nations.
- The measles outbreak in Samoa,
- The Dengue Fever outbreak in the Freely Associated States,
- The devastating earthquake in the Philippines,
- The historic bushfires in Australia, and
- COVID-19 are examples of why a ready and prepared medical force should not be exclusively designed to manage traumatic injuries.
We validated our medical readiness and ability to rapidly deploy medical capability to Guam, the Commonwealth of Norther Mariana Islands, and American Samoa in support of FEMA.
Meanwhile, we are prepared for typhoon season from now until November – where we typically see an average of 28 typhoons in the region.
This does not account for all of the tropical storms and other potential natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods in our disaster-prone region.
Here in Hawaii, we have a Center for Excellence in Disaster Management dedicated to training U.S. and foreign military personnel, government officials, and nongovernment agents in how to command and control resources in the wake of natural or man-made disasters.
I speak about this program frequently, particularly under the current circumstances. In fact, we export the course throughout the region to enhance partner governments’ abilities to more effectively respond to future disasters.
Additionally, we are committed to advancing our Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief training efforts in exercises like COBRA GOLD, preparing alongside our allies and partners to provide a strong regional response to crisis.
Rest assured, the United States and our forces in the Indo-Pacific are prepared and ready to provide assistance to those in need.
As our militaries transition to operating in the new normal and COVID-19 continues to impact the globe, the Communist Party of China stands to challenge the values and interests of the United States, our allies, and our partners.
An emboldened Communist Party of China seeks to exploit the current global pandemic crisis with increased military aggression, malign behavior, and pernicious activity throughout the Indo-Pacific.
The PLA’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and provocations throughout the region undermine the established rules-based international order.
Recent examples over the past two months include:
- A Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) cutter ramming and sinking a Vietnamese vessel in early April,
- CCG and Maritime Militia vessels pressuring a Malaysian exploration ship (WEST CAPELLA) within the Malaysian EEZ,
- Harassing Japanese fishing vessels during increased patrols by the CCG in the East China Sea and within the Senkakus,
- A PLA warship targeting a Philippine navy ship with its fire control radar – this after Beijing declared an area of Philippine territory as its own, and
- Increasing military operations and demonstrations of force in the vicinity of Taiwan in leading up to President Tsai’s inauguration today.
In addition to imposing aggressive military actions throughout the region, the Communist Party of China is conducting diplomatic, economic, and information actions to advance its strategic aims, as much of the region is dealing with the COVID-19 response.
Last month, Beijing announced the BLUE SEA 2020 initiative – a special maritime law enforcement and environmental protection campaign utilizing the CCG and a group of other maritime ministries.
The eight-month campaign – lasting through November – provides Chinese maritime security vessels with an umbrella rationale for deploying in larger numbers to apply and enforce Chinese domestic law in disputed waters.
Beijing also recently announced two new administrative districts in the South China Sea: one based on Woody Island and the other based on Fiery Cross Reef.
This announcement attempts to reinforce and further institutionalize China’s unlawful and excessive claims, which are contrary to the established laws and norms.
Furthermore, the Party seeks to deflect responsibility for the coronavirus outbreak and fails to act with transparency in disclosing critical details of its origin.
And yet, Chinese talking points and misinformation efforts suggest the United States military is somehow responsible for the outbreak, and that we are too preoccupied as a nation with COVID-19 to provide any global assistance.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are many more examples of Beijing’s attempts to capitalize on this period of vulnerability for the region (barley import sanctions on Australia, preventing Taiwan’s WHO participation, and the illegal fishing ban in the South China Sea).
Make no mistake, the Communist Party of China is actively seeking to supplant the established rules-based international order, in order to dictate new norms and behaviors on the international community.
A new order with Chinese characteristics – something they have made quite clear publicly.
China’s pernicious approach to the region includes a whole-of-party effort to coerce, corrupt, and contest the values embraced by the Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision.
The very values that like-minded nations across the globe seek to be a part of, to champion, and to defend. Australia, Japan, New Zealand, India, the U.K., France, Canada, and ASEAN have all put forth similar visions for the region.
Now, more than ever, as many nations are forced to divert substantial resources to COVID-19 risk mitigation and planning efforts, our nations must work with each other…not against each other.
The values of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific are even more critical today as we operate under the impacts of COVID-19 and face increasing challenges to the established rules-based international order.
In closing, we must continue to evaluate how COVID-19 is impacting the entire region.
Particularly for our militaries, we all need to ask ourselves, “What additional assistance can we offer our own nation and our foreign partners to help those in need?”
In order to exercise our full capability and capacity to assist the region writ large – we absolutely need to: challenge our assumptions, think critically and creatively, and develop unique solutions and alternatives in the wake of this crisis.
As the plaque on the Oval Office desk of President Ronald Reagan stated, “It CAN be done.”
And in an era of Great Power Competition, it MUST be done!
Once again, I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with you this evening.
I want to personally thank all of the military leaders from our ally and partner nations for your participation and your commitment to the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific.
I am happy to answer your questions, and I look forward to our discussion. Thank you.