International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Special Lecture Transcript Managing Strategic Competition and the Quest for an Enduring Future in the Indo-Pacific
16 March 2023
** Special Lecture Video – Click Here to Watch **
Speaker 1: Dr. John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, International Institute for Strategic Studies
Speaker 2: Adm. John C. Aquilino, Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command
Speaker 3: Dr. Lynn Kuok, Senior Fellow, International Institute for Strategic Studies
Speaker 4: Emma Collins, Journalist, Australian Financial Review
Speaker 5: Kishore Mahbubani, Author, Quincy Institute-Washington D.C.
Speaker 6: Aaron Connelly, Senior Fellow-Southeast Asia, International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia
Speaker 7: James Crabtree, Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia
Speaker 8: Commander Madsen, Swedish DA
Speaker 9: Burt Hoffman, Director, East Asian Institute at the National University
Dr. John Chipman 00:00
You in the room and also those who are joining us online for this IISS special lecture on the theme, of managing strategic competition and the quest for an enduring future in the Indo-Pacific. Let me thank Raytheon for their support to this event. The Shangri La Hotel, for hosting it. The IISS event team collaborating with INDOPACOM team to ensure it works so smoothly. Obviously also to Singapore MINDEF and the government of Singapore for their long-term partnership with the IISS. It was a real delight for me to hear that Adm. John C. Aquilino was going to give this address and I flew down from London to be able to hear it and engage with him over dinner tonight. I'm also using the excuse of this visit to Singapore to begin our planning for the Shangri La Dialogue in June 2023 where the invitations are already well launched. And to discuss with the Ministry of Defense an enduring future for the Shangri La Dialogue well to the end of this decade. The 20th anniversary of the Shangri La Dialogue is an extraordinary event. When we began it in 2002 and I invited Mr. Lee Kuan Yew to consider the idea that we might organize this event it was extraordinary to be told then, that in 2002 in the Asia Pacific as it was then styled presidents met, foreign ministers met, finance ministers met but defense ministers had never met in groups of greater than two. The fact that we were able to successfully launch it in 2002. And four years later, an ASEAN defense ministers meeting was first convened. And then a few years after that an (inaudible) plus meeting was organized meant that we feel we helped the path of defense diplomacy in this area. We have a combatant commander speaking to us today. And I've been fortunate over my 30 years of running the IISS to meet many. And I've concluded meeting them all that combatant commanders have two qualities that are essential to their success. The first is they must be fine strategists, required to analyze and plan for battle usually at quite a wide theater of operations and preparing for a variety of contingencies. The second is that they must be defense diplomats charged also with engaging at the highest level with civilian and military leaderships in the area of operations with the single goal of helping to prevent conflict. Every week in this region, the Indo-Pacific, there is new news generated. Earlier this week, new Chinese defense minister was appointed, the AUKUS work plan was publicly announced, a step was taken in Japan Korea reconciliation, perhaps they're an example of win-win diplomacy, and Indo-Pacific guidelines are being released by countries of all kinds. The Rubik's cube of many lateral and multilateral arrangements in the Indo-Pacific is always shifting. And we thought there was no one better to analyze the nature of strategic competition in this area and manage it than, Admiral John C. Aquilino. Admiral, the floor, and this podium is yours.
Adm. John C. Aquilino 03:51
Well, good evening, Mr. Ambassador, it's good to see you. Thanks for coming. To the flag officers, distinguished guests, Think Tank experts, and all those who had nothing better to do tonight. Thank you for coming. It's certainly great to be back in Singapore. And I thank my friends here and the government of Singapore for allowing me to come back. And I do want to take a second to congratulate General Melvyn Ong, a good friend who was about to retire. And I want to thank him for his many years of dedicated service to his nation, and for being a really good partner and friend. I also want to congratulate Admiral Beng, also a good friend as he continues to serve in uniform as the next CDF here in Singapore. And, John, thank you very much. Thanks to IISS. It's wonderful to be here. You bring together an impressive group, and it's always interesting to engage. So, I'm honored to be here and hopefully, my comments will lead to additional and more cooperation between Singapore and the United States. So, I want to start by making some key points. Just prior to this, we talked about misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and other things. And there's a lot of it out there. So, I thought I would start by removing all doubt for a few key areas. First and foremost, the United States is not seeking conflict in the Indo-Pacific region. Rather, we embrace the rules-based international order, freedom of navigation throughout the global commons, human rights, and the peaceful settlement of disputes utilizing the rule of law. Second, we do not seek to contain the People's Republic of China. As stated in the U.S. strategy, however, we are engaged in a robust competition. Third, the United States has not changed our policies toward Taiwan. And we do not support Taiwan independence. We do, however, support peace and prosperity, and stability in the Pacific free of coercion and bullying. So, when I look at the environment, across this region, and across the globe, I believe the world has evolved from an era of globalization in which economies drove geopolitics. And it's changing to an era of renewed great power competition, where the security environment influences economics, trade, and investment. But competition doesn't mean no friction. Nor does it mean we will acquiesce to every demand. So, the United States is a Pacific nation. We always have been, and we will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows to demonstrate the freedom of navigation rights of all nations. We actively defend these freedoms, because the international rules-based order and the rule of law are foundational to peace, stability, and prosperity. Now no one knew this better than the father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. When faced with the daunting task of shaping this country's future, he described the government's approach in this way. And I quote, our policies are designed to ensure that we stay peaceful in Southeast Asia, in accord and in amity with our neighbors but with the right to decide how we order our own lives, in our own home. Every action, every policy must be decided by this yardstick, end quote. So, ladies and gentlemen, my concern is that this foundation of the rules based international order this right to order our lives as we see fit is under direct assault by authoritarian regimes. And tonight, I'll talk a little bit about what I see, and how alongside our allies and partners and friends, that we will continue to build an enduring future of peace and prosperity for all to benefit in this region, and for all nations to contribute. The rules-based international order has delivered greater prosperity, enhanced security, and it strengthened the sovereignty of all in the region. It's proven over the last eight decades. An interconnected global economy has created incredible opportunities not only for economic growth, and not only for the region but for the world. Now, Singapore is a tremendous example of what can be achieved. Singapore embraces free markets, the rule of law, and peaceful and transparent resolution of differences through dialogue. And those efforts have helped quadruple Singapore's GDP over the last 20 years. I used to work for Admiral Harris. He had a picture in his command brief, and it had a picture of Singapore, in the vicinity of the Singapore River in 1965. And then right next to it, it had a picture of Singapore in 2020. And you wouldn't believe it was the same place. That's what right can look like. So, with one of the world's finest airports, the world's second-largest port, a free and open Indo-Pacific is a matter of vital national importance to Singapore and to the rest of the nations in the region. So, it's more than economics. It's also security. The rules-based order is supportive of the security interests of all. Peaceful resolution to disputes, in accordance with the rule of law, ensures all nations have an equal voice in an open and transparent matter in order to help avoid conflict. ASEAN alignment behind the confirmation that the 1982 UNCLOS treaty is the basis for the interpretation of international maritime law. Incredibly powerful from the ASEAN nations. International rules-based order also strengthens sovereignty. Sovereign nations must remain free to choose their own security partners, negotiate trade agreements, and they must do it without the fear of coercion or intimidation. Sovereignty demands each country regardless of size, has an equal voice, and ensured access to the global commons. So, U.S. operations throughout the region are executed in accordance with international law and they uphold the navigational rights and freedoms of all nations large or small. So, we take these actions because the international rules-based order is at risk for global destabilization. Revisionist powers seeks to disrupt and displace the current system in ways that benefit themselves and at the expense of all others. They use coercion, and intimidation, to achieve their objectives, and they justify their actions under a theory of might equals right. Or they make illegal excessive territorial claims, not based on anything other than revisionist history. They empower law enforcement entities to harass nations operating legally within their own exclusive economic zones. They break formal commitments. They ignore international legal rulings, and they avoid requirements delivered under the U.N. Charter. Some have even proposed alternative security options. And while on the face, they look benign, their real purpose is to establish an alternative to this rules-based order in ways that benefit one nation and at the expense of all others. Now, these actions isolate them on the world stage. And we, as witness to these actions, must always focus on deeds and not words. Actions are what matter. And how we could contend with the affront to the rules-based international order. It impacts all nations in this region and out. Now, I'm encouraged that many like-minded nations throughout the region have embraced a vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. And it's critically important that the global set of allies, partners, and friends continue to work together to support this common balance. Now, the mechanism as directed by my Secretary of Defense to me is through the execution of integrated deterrence. And as defined integrated deterrence is the synchronization of all forms of national power in all domains, with the joint force and in coordination with our allies and partners to prevent conflict. So, what you'll see at U.S. INDOPACOM doing with our allies and partners -- in the military sphere -- we execute 120 exercises a year. Singapore and the United States, partnering to conduct sophisticated high-end training on platforms like the F-16 and F-35. Twenty-five nations 25,000 personnel and all to include many ASEAN nations and around the globe executing the Rim of the Pacific Exercise in Hawaii. Exercise Cope North, which is ongoing today. Aircraft from Singapore, Thailand, and the United States operating together in a way that support regional security objectives. These exercises increase capability, they improve interoperability, and they strengthen trust between the partners. And when viewed by those who seek to change the rules-based order, these activities provide clear visible evidence of our commitment to preserving peace and stability in this region. Now, it all can’t be done militarily. Diplomatically, advancements and partnerships with Australia, Japan, Philippines all increase the strength of our position in the region. The trilateral relationship between the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the United States provides the dedicated capability to defend all of our homelands. The Quad nations exercising together highlight the importance of the Indian Ocean as it applies to the global community. And ASEAN once again, ASEAN centrality is critical and cannot be overstated in importance as we balance the force throughout the Indo-Pacific region. There's legal and legislative actions that support integrated deterrence. The Chips and Science Act was passed to protect critical technologies and strengthen intellectual property protections for national security. Our intelligence sharing and cooperation delivers a deterrent effect. Sharing of intelligence across the region to provide maritime domain awareness for all of our partners increases their understanding of the battlespace. The counterterrorism information facility based right here in Singapore brings together our like-minded nations to use open source information to prevent terrorist attacks for all of our like-minded partners. Six ASEAN nations, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States participate, and all are welcome. To coordinate, collaborate, and cooperate the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is delivering what we refer to as the mission partner environment. A single system for all like-minded partners to be able to communicate, collaborate, and operate together across all domains. And then finally, economically. We're making historic investments in the United States to build on our continued growth and resiliency. It includes working with our allies and partners to include Singapore, to write the rules for a 21st Century economy that will help all of our countries’ economies grow faster. And through the use of the Indo-Pacific economic framework for prosperity, we're seeking high ambition outcomes with Singapore and 12 other nations. It fosters inclusive economic growth, resilient supply chains, and the necessary investment to support these objectives. So, credible deterrence incorporates all forms of national power. Now, I'll say it again, the United States does not seek to contain China. But we will compete. And by competing we will demonstrate the superiority of the current rules-based international order that provides all nations the opportunity to reach their full potential. Now the challenges to this international order are urgent. And they're a problem today for all of us. Although I believe conflict is neither imminent nor inevitable, in my role, it doesn't matter. U.S. INDOPACOM is taking actions every day to prevent any potential conflict. Now, ultimately, great nations lead towards a compelling vision of the future. And for many decades, the United States and Singapore have cultivated a close relationship. It's anchored in our respect for each other, our people to people ties, the respect for the rules order, the appreciation of free markets, and adherence to the international law. So, as we figure out how to go forward together, there's really one question we should ask ourselves. And that is, what kind of world would we like to leave our children and grandchildren? And you could roll it up into two options. We could leave a world that suffers from a tradition of tyranny. Or we could leave one that flourishes with a legacy of liberty that includes a free and open Indo-Pacific. Once again, I thank you for your attention. It's always great to be back here. I look forward to your questions. Thank you.
Dr. John Chipman 21:50
Thank you very much Admiral. I will now move to a period of Q&A. And I'll call on questions in the room. And also, from online I've got at least one here I'd certainly like to draw on. Let me ask the first question Admiral, as we witnessed an interesting technique of U.S. strategic diplomacy, in the run up to the Ukraine war, when it was increasingly evident to the NSA and their partners at GCHQ in the U.K. that this buildup of forces on the Ukraine border was an indication of actual Putin intent to invade Ukraine and the United States with the United Kingdom began releasing an awful lot of intelligence to its allies and partners. To some it was perhaps a little dispiriting that major European powers believe Putin statement that he had no intention to invade over that of their principal allies that showed exquisite intelligence to that effect. But the quality of U.S. intelligence was shown to be extremely high in this instance. And while deterrence failed, I looked at that and thought, this is a new instrument of diplomacy. It's deterrence by preemptive attribution. It's saying we know you're going to do this and we're attributing this intent to you hoping that perhaps that intent would not be realized. With your like-minded partners in this region, do you think that deterrence by preemptive attribution in any of the domains, including possibly cyber is a useful way to maintain peace and security, perhaps also in this region?
Adm. John C. Aquilino 23:36
Yeah. Thanks, John. So, having been to the Top Gun school, I'll give you the answer that they always give. It depends. I don't think there's a one cookie-cutter approach. What I would say is the approach that General Cavoli used along with the United States to release and declassify some information was truly based on the relationships with our allies and partners, right. You just don't share for sharing sake, you share to build trust and to give a common view of the battlespace, and to describe what could happen, right. I don't think anyone really had the ability of understanding 100% what was going to happen other than one man. That said, what it did do is bring the allies and partners together. It showed a level of trust. It provided an insight that they wouldn't have had without our cooperation, and I think it made NATO stronger. And it ultimately provided options, certainly for General Cavoli to present to the Secretary and the President, and probably for all of the nation's leadership to be able to describe and have conversations with their political leadership. So, it was extremely effective in that case. I won't do hypotheticals. It's certainly a tool that's in the toolkit. But there are many other options that we could use.
Dr. John Chipman 25:13
Thank you very much. Now I’ll take a question from the online group because they often feel disenfranchised if they're not in the room, so I'll go first to them. This one is from Shashank Joshi, who's the defense editor of The Economist, it's typically a very precise question, I will have to read it, it's hard to memorize three sentences. The AUKUS announcements made this week include details or summary rotational force West, including up to four US SSN’s, and one UK SSN. Can Adm. John C. Aquilino give us more detail of whether this will include SSNs currently based in Guam, or will it result in a net increase in SSNs in the Indo-Pacific? Additionally, can he explain how long each rotation through HMAS Stirling is likely to last? It is hard to judge the importance of a new posture without a sense of these two things? Thank you.
Adm. John C. Aquilino 26:02
Okay. No. So, the details are not quite flushed out. I think the focus here is to move at the fastest pace possible to deliver the capability that Australia has identified is needed. Again, under the under the structure of allies and partners, the United Kingdom, the United States has chosen to share some of our highest technology with Australia, in order to ensure that Australia, a treaty ally of the United States, can defend itself. The concern for the friction in the region is alarming to all and then trending in the wrong direction. So, the Australians have made a choice. As good partners, United States, and the United Kingdom, will go ahead and assist in the ability for Australia to defend themselves. All those details will be worked out. But we are intending to move as fast as possible. And as safe as possible.
Dr. John Chipman 27:09
Thank you very much. So, we're in the in the room now. Dr. Lynn Kuok, who is with the IISS if you stand up, the microphone will migrate and speak towards you. And you can self-identify yourself as senior fellow at the IISS Asia. Now you didn't have to because I have. Go ahead.
Dr. Lynn Kuok 27:26
Thank you, John, for making my task. So easy. And thank you, Admiral. Your predecessor said in 2021, that China could have as one of its exhibits Taiwan as one of its ambitions in the next six years. So, by 2027. He didn't make the basis for his assessment clear. You were reported as disagreeing with him. And you stated that the problem is much closer to us than most think. And we have to take this on. Could you please explain to us first; what timeframe you are looking at? Second, the basis for your assessment? And third, whether your assessment looks at China's military capabilities, or its actual intent to invade Taiwan? Or do you see this as one in the same thing, namely, that if China has the military capabilities, that it will invade Taiwan? Thank you.
Adm. John C. Aquilino 28:23
Well, thank you. First, let me just start by saying I did not disagree with Admiral Davidson, right. And what Admiral Davidson stated was that President Xi tasked his military structure to deliver the capabilities that would be needed by 2027. That's the date that was it was based on. That's just a fact. It's what was tasked by the President of China to his military forces. So, I don't disagree with that because that's what he said. Now, everybody wants to talk timelines. And if I knew what the timeline was, I wouldn't be sitting here with John, I'd be in Las Vegas. But what I will tell you is, when I say it doesn't matter, it certainly doesn't matter to me, because the missions that the Secretary has given me, is to take all actions required through the lens of integrated deterrence to prevent conflict. Now, he gave me a second mission, which is if deterrence fails, then you need to be prepared to fight and win. And he gave me that mission when I took over in ‘21. He didn't tell me I could do it in ‘28 or ‘29. He told me to do it today. So, we're taking all of our actions. We're operating in the theater. We're coordinating and delivering deterrent effects with our allies and partners, today and every day through this lens of operating every day in the region to prevent conflict.
Dr. John Chipman 29:59
Thank you. Yeah. Anyone else? I can ask a question if no, we're not. There's someone right in the back, the person has just raised their hand if you stand and identify yourself, thank you very much. Perfect. Thank you.
Emma Collins 30:13
Oh, hi, thank you. Thank you very much for your speech, Admiral.
Dr. John Chipman 30:16
Can you please identify yourself, sorry.
Emma Collins 30:18
Sure. I forgot that part. My name is Emma Collins, and I'm a journalist with the Australian Financial Review. I was just hoping you could give us some insight into the current communicate communication channels in place between you and your other senior military and diplomatic leaders in the U.S. and your counterparts in PRC? I mean, we've heard a lot about escalation, we've heard a lot about increased activity by these two growing navies in the region, you would think that would increase the risk of accidental collision and escalation. And I'm just wondering, are you satisfied with the guardrails that are now in place to prevent what many worry about in this region, which is the prospect of accidental war? Thank you.
Adm. John C. Aquilino 31:00
No. You guys are making this too easy. So, let me expound a little. When I took over the position, within two months of taking over, INDOPACOM hosted our annual Chiefs of Defense Conference, and we were able to do it in person in a post COVID environment. And we did it in Hawaii. At that event, many of my partners came over and said, “Hey, you really need to engage and develop an ability to communicate with A: all of us and B: with the People's Republic of China leadership. So, I value the counsel of my partners. And for now, going on just over a year and a half, I have a standing request to be able to speak to either the Eastern and or the southern theater Commander from the PRC. Secretary Austin, just a couple of months ago met with Minister Wei. And they both agreed that we should talk, the operational commanders should have a conversation. I have not yet received a response for a year and a half to accept my request for a conversation. I haven't received a no, I haven't received a wait, could we adjust? I've just received no answer. Now, we continue to ask because I do think it's important. But it's concerning to me that I don't have the ability to talk to someone should there be a reason to talk. Again, with the rest of the nations in the region, and with many nations out of the region, we speak often. I’m on their speed dial and they're on mine. And whenever there's an event, whether it be a response to an earthquake, a flood, you name a natural disaster in this region, I have the ability to quickly write or call them. And they have the ability to quickly write or call me to ask for help. And I'm hoping to have that same option with the PRC. But today it doesn't exist. And it's not from a lack of trying from this part.
Dr. John Chipman 33:42
Thank you. Anyone? Yes, you sir. Please, if you could stand just only for the purposes of the microphone coming quicker to you. And give us your name and affiliation, if at all relevant. Thank you.
Kishore Mahbubani 33:57
Thank you, Admiral, for a great talk. Kishore Mahbubani, Quincy Institute Washington D.C. Question I have for you, Admiral, is do you accept the possibility that adding deterrence at some point becomes self-defeating in that the deterrence has an impact of response that may actually reduce U.S. security? And if so, are we close to that line or point or are we quite far from that in your judgment? Thank you.
Adm. John C. Aquilino 34:35
I don't think I prescribed to your context. And the reason I don't is, you know, 80 years we've been operating here. So, when you talk about deterrence activities, right, they're similar and or adjusted based on what we've been doing for decades. So, if all of a sudden, we're doing the same thing, and we think it's going to kick off a war, you know, I would question the interpretation of the deterrent activities. We assess all of our actions and missions, through risk to mission, risk to force, and risk to escalation. I'm confident that our actions in the region are aligned with what we've been doing and have done for 80 years. I'm confident based on my initial comment that says we do not seek conflict. We are not taking actions to provoke; we are taking actions to prevent. So that's how I would answer your question.
Dr. John Chipman 35:41
Thanks. I got a couple of online here which again, I’ll read for precision. They're shorter than the first but precise. Mike Yeo who's with Defense News says I have recently reported on the presence of a U.S. Air Force Global Hawk surveillance unmanned aircraft operating from Chinese airbase in Singapore, would you be able to comment and provide more details about what it was doing here?
Adm. John C. Aquilino 36:06
No. Actually, I will comment. So again, as always, right, there was a requirement in very short coordination with our Singapore counterparts. And with great respect and alignment with our partnership, they allowed the airplane to be able to land here recover, it has since departed. But again, the question I think, is not representative of the real issue. The real issue is the close partnership, the ability to coordinate quickly to understand each other's operations, and to support each other whenever it's needed.
Dr. John Chipman 36:47
And we've got a question from France here, which is more open ended than the previous one. And what do you expect? Or what would you like to see coming from Europeans to support the action of the United States and its regional allies, one, to deter conflict with China today? And two, to support the U.S. if there were a conflict tomorrow?
Adm. John C. Aquilino 37:09
What would I like to see from our partner?
Dr. John Chipman 37:10
What would you like to see from your European allies in support of the effort to deter conflict today, and to support the U.S. if there were conflict with China in the future? It's from (inaudible), the military fellow in (inaudible) in France.
Adm. John C. Aquilino 37:25
Yeah, thanks. So, from our French counterparts, when I get those questions, I apologize I didn’t hear, but based on their Pacific presence in Tahiti, I didn't realize the question was from a Europe side. But the message that I have sent through General Cavoli into our European partners, across all of that region is, number one, to understand the importance of the Indo-Pacific globally. Two thirds of the global commerce transits through this region, and to Europe. The importance and the impact of globalization, and what it might mean to Europe, if there was a disruption of the flow of goods and services would be extremely impactful, and not in a good way. So, understanding that importance. That's point 1. Point 2. I invite all my partners to come to this theater and deploy with us. I thank the French, the Tonnerre has been here, Jeanne d ’Arc, and a few of their other ships. They've sent a submarine here not long ago, and they sent some aircraft that flew almost around the world to do a Pacific detachment, of which the United States, along with our other partners supported the logistics for those events, to make their deployments successful. Again, that's what partners do for each other. So, I invite all of our European allies, partners, and friends, to come to Pacific, operate with us, join into our exercises, understand that theater better, and continue to build relationships with our partners in the Indo-Pacific.
Dr. John Chipman 39:08
I know that our friends in France would have appreciated that you noted that France is a red blooded power in the Indo-Pacific. It's a point they like meeting here is a point that the U.S. often makes, and I think that will be appreciated in Paris. Yes. Kishore Mahbubani. Everybody recognizes you, but you can stand anyway.
Kishore Mahbubani 39:31
Thank you, John. Admiral, you said many things today that were very reassuring to Singapore, and to the region, that the United States is not pursuing containment policy. United States doesn't support the independence of Taiwan. And you also emphasize ASEAN centrality. So, what I want to build on is your last comment on ASEAN centrality because as you know, the ASEAN countries deeply, deeply appreciate the presence of the United States here, and all response here military, economic, political. And of course, they want to preserve the good relation to the United States. But at the same time, China is also as you know, our neighbor, for the past 2000 years, next 2000 years, and they also want to maintain good relations with China. So, what we would like to see is a very careful, well balanced competition where the competition carries on, but not in a way that forces the ASEAN countries to make zero sum decisions. So, they would appreciate a certain degree of sensitivity and understanding of this past year (inaudible). Do you think that is being appreciated in Washington, DC? And are there efforts being made to ensure that the ASEAN countries also feel comfortable as the competition carries on as it will?
Adm. John C. Aquilino 40:51
Yeah, I think there's a couple of examples of exactly what you described with regard to Washington DC. First, the President hosted ASEAN nations in the White House, to certainly understand and highlight the importance of ASEAN in a region number one. Number two, the Secretary always articulates as do I and it's used by the United States is not asking any nation to choose one or the other. There's no strings attached. There's no pressure to say, you know, you must choose the United States. Secondly, there's a place for China in this world. The point that I think is important is the following and adherence to the rules based order, as all of the nation’s here interpret it is important. Open Markets, transparency, freedom of navigation, the peaceful settlement of disputes, the rule of law, human rights, those are things that are important to everyone. So, there's a place for China in this world to adhere and follow the rules like all the rest of us do. But ASEAN’s clear importance in the region, they speak with one voice. It's a very powerful voice. It's representative of what's important here. And again, I value every one of my engagements with my partners in ASEAN. So, I hope that gets your question.
Dr. John Chipman 42:33
There are about five or six questions here online that basically all go to the same question. So, I'll paraphrase it. The question is, there's a hot war in Europe, now Russia has invaded the biggest country in Europe. What are the lessons that you think the United States is drawing from the war in Europe for the Indo-Pacific theater? And what do you think the lessons are that the Chinese are drawing from the same conflict for the Indo-Pacific Theater?
Adm. John C. Aquilino 43:04
Well, there are some differences. But let me just talk about the ones that are the same that both nations are learning. Number one, the ability to execute complex combined arms actions to achieve your objectives, is difficult. Synchronizing all those affects, all those domains, supporting it through the logistics chains to deliver an effective fighting force that can sustain over time is hard. And you can ask one man in Moscow, how hard it is. Second, it costs blood. And I don't think there's anything that looks like a short war anymore. If there ever was, but the investment of the blood of the people of your nation, a choice to take that action should never be taken lightly. And whatever you think the costs will be, it will far exceed what you think. Next, it's going to cost your nation treasure. So, are you willing to invest the future of your nation as it applies to economic prosperity for the people of your nation? I think those are kind of the key ones. And I think there's a lot of nations that have learned or either learned or relearn that lesson.
Dr. John Chipman 44:40
Going back to my phrase about how the Rubik's Cube is moving. There's been quite an important change in the last several months in the strategic posture of the Philippines under the Marcus administration. Not only have they tightened up the strategic diplomatic security relationship with the United States not only have they carried on to create an ever stronger one with Australia, but so far as I understand they are trying within the bounds of their own constitution and the bounds of the Japanese Constitution perhaps to arrange a visiting forces agreement with Japan. Were that to be concluded the sort of maritime surveillance capacities in the South China Sea linking Japan, the Philippines, and Australia would be relatively unified. Do you see a role as the Indo-Pacific Commander in encouraging this sort of cooperation? What do you think the security promise would be of that sort of arrangement?
Adm. John C. Aquilino 45:42
So, I think the key here is, as we talk about the current structure and architecture, all nations get to make a choice who they want to partner with. Those are sovereign rights that independent nations get to make. I encourage all of our partners to come and operate together, be more interoperable, let's train practice. And, like I said before, we're taking all comers, no exclusions. So, if the Philippines decide that they believe they need a stronger relationship with the Japanese, we're very supportive of that. I hope they would invite us in to participate in some of their exercises. I think the real theme is, what you're seeing as it applies to the architecture in the Pacific is a lot of nations that are concerned about their security. Now, you got to ask yourself, why is that? So, you can take a look at the actions that have been demonstrated throughout the region, whether it be pressurization from fishing fleets, you know, laser operations, economic coercion, and other actions. That's what's driving nations to be concerned for their security and to reach out and develop more partnerships. Because we are stronger when we're together. When the like-minded nations come together, it like I said, it delivers a deterrent effect that can absolutely prevent conflict.
Dr. John Chipman 47:12
Thanks very much. We've got time for three or four more questions. Aaron Connelly, if you stand, you’re the senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the IISS Asia office.
Aaron Connelly 47:24
Thanks, Dr. Chipman. Admiral, I'm curious, there seems to be a big push under the Biden administration for the U.S. Coast Guard that play a bigger role in this region. Coast Guard’s pretty thinly stretched and I'm just wondering what you see as the advantages of having Coast Guard in this region, as opposed to having some more gray holes in this region. Thanks.
Adm. John C. Aquilino 47:42
So, when we talk about operations in the theater, it usually revolves around this theme, right, the right force for the right mission in the right place at the right time. And in many cases, the Coast Guard is absolutely the right force. So, when you talk about the support enforcement of IUU fishing issues, and the overfishing inside of exclusive economic zones of some nations, the pressurization there, the Coast Guard is absolutely the right force. The Coast Guard also understands the importance of the Pacific, and you're going to see more Coast Guard in the Pacific. The United States Navy, in some cases, can overwhelm. In some cases, some of the places don't even have a military, but they do have a Coast Guard. So, to pull all that together, and my Coast Guard partner in support, again, he doesn't work for me. But we coordinate and operate together to achieve the objectives of our nation. And it's a really great team. So, I am looking for more Coast Guard. And as the Coast Guard balances across their global commitments, anything additional that they can provide to the Pacific, we certainly have a use for.
Dr. John Chipman 49:00
Thank you very much. And James Crabtree, Executive Director of IISS Asia in the front row.
James Crabtree 49:07
Thank you very much. Adm. John C. Aquilino, you've given a frank introduction to your speech today, your initial three points. The United States does not see conflict down to it doesn't support independence with Taiwan. That suggests to me that something has gone wrong, that you have to come here and push back against these three points. So, what do you think has gone wrong? Why is it that this perception is out there in the region that you had to push back against? And on the third point, if you don't support independence for Taiwan? What more do you think the United States needs to do to support the defense of Taiwan?
Adm. John C. Aquilino 49:48
So, I wouldn't categorize it as pushing back. What I would say is the role of the information environment in this day and age can be confusing. Such that people could make wrong interpretations, or people could articulate things in a way that could give you the wrong perception. And that effort is going on. Three days ago, the foreign minister of the PRC, in the wake of the closing of 20th party congress, articulated that war with the United States is inevitable. And it's important for me to ensure that my partners and the PRC knows that the United States is not pursuing conflict. So, I think it's about truthful messaging at the right place, so that it can't be interpreted any other way. And that's the message that I tell my partners, and you can ask any of the chiefs of defense here, because I remind them every time we talk. They see it in my words, they see it in our actions. We've been operating with the nations out here for 80 years, and they know what we do, they know how we do it. So, what you have is the words match the actions, right, I talked in the speech about deeds and not words. And it's important for me, for our deeds to match our words. So, I think that's really why I’d hit on it.
Dr. John Chipman 51:22
I think I'm right in saying I hope you weren't saying no to this, that the Indo-Pacific Command of all the U.S. Combatant Commands is that geographically largest in the territories and seas it covers, it certainly probably also have the most independent states within it. We've talked a lot about the big states, the middle states, the ASEAN states. I'd like to give you an opportunity to talk a little bit about the smaller Pacific island states who have a whole series of security concerns, not all of them adequately attended to and I wonder what you think your command with all the wide responsibilities and deep responsibilities it has can do to promote peace and security, particularly amongst in between and within the Pacific island states?
Adm. John C. Aquilino 52:05
Yeah, so first of all, all the nations in the region are important, right. And again, I make this point of clearly stating, it doesn't matter whether your nation is big or small. We support and fight for the right for all nations to have an equal voice. No matter what. The Pacific islands are a pretty good example. We've recently seen in the form of the Solomon Islands, some actions by the PRC to potentially grab a foothold. I think it woke a number of us up to ensure that we spend more time, engage with, provide assistance, and support the Pacific islands. And through the leadership of Australia, New Zealand, and the other nations in the southern part of the of the hemisphere there. They certainly have taken an increased leadership role. We coordinate our support, the United States provides a number of efforts, port visits, Coast Guard visits to support IUU fishing rights for those nations. Our Pacific Partnership exercises brings medical attention, help and care to the Pacific islands every year. So, they're important. We're back on track, I would say. And we continue to engage in ways that are meaningful and helpful for those nations.
Dr. John Chipman 53:39
Next, we can go to about one minute and seven. Do I see anyone I keep on going for a couple of minutes, but I would there you go Sir. Happy to stand.
Commander Madsen 53:51
I am Commander Madsen Swedish DA. I think there is another spot of interest in your area of responsibility: DPRK and North Korea. Would you mind sharing a few thoughts on the situation there and what your how that affects your planning and operations?
Adm. John C. Aquilino 54:14
Certainly. So, last year that the DPRK executed 70 launches the most in its history of provocative actions. Those actions are destabilizing to the region. They threaten the Republic of Korea. They threaten Japan. They have developed the capabilities to threaten the United States as well. So that alliance is important. Launched an intercontinental ballistic missile this morning. That's how I started my day. That said, we've you know, we continually coordinate my partner with General LaCamera at U.S. Forces Korea and his counterpart General Kim from the Republic of Korea. They were on the phone this morning and they spoke with General Yamazaki as we coordinate A, what we saw and B, what we might recommend doing. But ultimately, it's destabilizing. It's unpredictable. It's continuing. It's not slowing down. And the potential for the People's Republic of China to help dissuade the DPRK from executing these events would be helpful.
Dr. John Chipman 55:40
So, I will ask another question, but a very different one on AUKUS. There was this very comprehensive statement the other day by the three leaders on what the plans were for the submarine sales that are multiple in two different types. But there hasn't yet been that much public discussion about the second really important pillar of the AUKUS arrangements, which were about AI, quantum, cyber, undersea capacities. When I speak to people in industry about this, whether in the U.K. or Australia, and to a degree also in the United States. They say one of the difficulties in advancing on this pillar is that despite the fact that on the other pillar one is showing one of the most sensitive technologies imaginable, which is nuclear propulsion. There isn't yet the sort of mini ITAR arrangement that would permit the sharing of AI, quantum, cyber, and other capacities at speed yet. What do you think needs to be done so that that pillar of the AUKUS arrangement is built to the same height, same effect as the other one?
Adm. John C. Aquilino 56:51
Yeah. Thanks, John. So, our partners have articulated ITAR, in many cases can be tricky to work through. And when you share the highest levels of technology, you can expect it can be even more tricky. That said, we will figure this out, right. So, the pillar two aspect, separate from submarines, I sat not long ago with Admiral Radakin and General Campbell, and we laid out an approach for what we want to execute in pillar two. And number one, that's to deliver warfighting capability as fast as possible. So, if you were to think about binning capabilities in the near, mid, and far term, and then focusing our efforts to deliver a warfighting advantage, that's the approach for pillar two. So, some of them may be longer term, but there are certainly some things that we're gonna deliver in the real near term.
Dr. John Chipman 57:46
Yes, you Sir. Someone will have to jog. But he's standing microphone over here, please. Yeah, it's coming to stage left to you. There you go.
Burt Hoffman 57:59
All right, I am Burt Hoffman, I work at the East Asian Institute at the National University. And thank you for sharing your thoughts. You mentioned this issue of containment that you are not here to contain China. And I do not know anything about the military. But Jake Sullivan, last year said the following, “Given the foundational nature of certain technologies, such as advanced logic, a memory chip, we must maintain as large a lead as possible.” In other words, the past was the sliding scale and China could catch up. Now, we must keep it as far as possible behind. Is there a technological containment of China? Thank you.
Adm. John C. Aquilino 58:46
No. There's competition. Many nations in the world are going after some of the most promising sets of technology, whether it be for military use, commercial use. That's just the way the world is. So again, I think what I heard you say is the National Security Adviser was describing what competition looks like for him and again, across all areas, economic, diplomatic, military, technology.
Dr. John Chipman 59:24
Adm. John C. Aquilino, you have honored us at the IISS and the Republic of Singapore by choosing this place to give these very important sets of remarks, this special lecture at the IISS. I want to ask everyone in this room to do two things. First, stay seated for the next 90 seconds as we take a photograph here and escort Adm. John C. Aquilino to his next engagement but even more importantly, before any of that. Could you please thank Adm. John C. Aquilino for his (inaudible).