Millennium Hilton Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand — Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018; 8:15 AM
Good morning Admirals, Generals, Inspector General, officers, distinguished guests and ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to be in the presence of so many maritime and law enforcement professionals to kick-start the 6th Gulf of Thailand Maritime Law Enforcement Commander’s Forum in this majestic city.
To begin, I wish to thank our generous host, Admiral Chatchai Srivorakan, Royal Thai Navy Chief of Staff and the Thai Maritime Enforcement Coordination Center for their warm hospitality and professionalism in organizing this excellent forum.
This year’s event is extra special because it is the 6th Commanders Forum and it has six ASEAN Member States participating with the largest participation since its establishment in 2012. I am very pleased with the progress you have made together in such a short time. Congratulations on this marvelous achievement and special thanks to everyone in this room for your hard work and continued support.
51 years ago the Association of Southeast Asian Nations formed around the aspiration that through “the collective will of the nations of Southeast Asia” they would “bind themselves together in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples and for posterity the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity.” ASEAN, at the heart of Asia’s regional architecture, has long been a foundation for stability and order in the Indo-Pacific and the United States has stood with you now for more than four decades.
As Vice President Pence said at the 6th U.S. – ASEAN Summit, the United States commitment to ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific region is steadfast and enduring. ASEAN is central to our vision for the region; it is our indispensable and irreplaceable strategic partner. Our interests are intertwined and our visions are truly the same. Our relationship, without a doubt, has benefitted both ASEAN and the United States over the past 41 years – diplomatically, economically, and from the standpoint of national security.
I am delighted to witness that same spirit of cooperation in this room in the area of maritime law enforcement. Your efforts here this week will help promote a safe and secure maritime common in Southeast Asia and address the shared challenges facing the Gulf of Thailand – the United States is proud to be a part of this effort.
The waters of Southeast Asia contain some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, and the region plays a crucial role in the movement of international goods, which are vital for the Indo-Pacific’s economic growth and regional prosperity.
Unfortunately, tensions on the Korean Peninsula due to the DPRK’s illicit nuclear and missile programs, ongoing territorial and maritime disputes, terrorism, transnational crimes, resource competitions and environmental degradation all have the potential to threaten the regional security and prosperity.
Closer to your profession, the region also faces maritime related security challenges such as illegal fishing, environmental crimes, and illicit trafficking of goods, weapon, drugs, and persons. These networks and illicit markets supporting traffickers undermine the rule of law, weaken public institutions, and contribute to geopolitical tensions throughout the region if not properly addressed. Maritime law enforcement can help address all of these issues.
Given the maritime geography of the region, addressing these challenges requires greater maritime domain awareness, greater transparency and cooperation, and greater information sharing between countries as transnational crimes are not bounded by physical borders. This allows countries to have a better understanding of what is entering or transpiring in their claimed waters and at their ports.
The United States government is committed to supporting ASEAN and its member states to confront these challenges. We believe in ASEAN-led solutions to jointly address Southeast Asia’s shared challenges through meaningful and practical partnerships like the Gulf of Thailand Initiative. We value and are proud of our cooperation in this forum, because it enables open dialogue and promotes practical cooperation through confidence building activities. The Gulf of Thailand Initiative strengthens our network of allies and partners who can operate together to address critical regional maritime law enforcement issues and challenges.
In closing, thank you again for your commitment to this important forum. The United States looks forward to working with Gulf of Thailand Initiative members to further strengthen this forum’s impact on regional security. I encourage you to work together toward enabling practical maritime law enforcement activities that includes coordinated enforcements to safeguard and deter maritime threats and tackle shared challenges in and around the Gulf of Thailand.