This article was originally published on the Defense Department website on May 30.
Washington — At an annual Asia security conference in Singapore that he helped to create while he was a U.S. senator, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will lay out challenges the participating nations face and will meet with many fellow defense leaders to strengthen their military-to-military relationships with the United States.
Speaking with reporters traveling with him to the Shangri-La Dialogue, Hagel noted that this is his fifth trip to the Asia-Pacific region since he took office in February 2013, and that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have visited the region in recent months.
“So we continue to build on the relationships that are part of showing our commitment, and the visits are part of showing our commitment to this Asia-Pacific rebalance,” he said.
Hagel said that in a speech at the conference, he will talk about some specific challenges, Thailand being one, as well as the China-U.S. relationship and tensions in the South and East China seas.
“I will address in my remarks these challenges,” he said, “as well as continuing to focus on the building of these mutual defense capability relationships as we deepen and strengthen our partners’ capabilities in this area.”
During the conference, the secretary said, he will have one-on-one meetings with his counterparts from 10 nations, as well as two trilateral meetings. One trilateral meeting, with Japan and the Republic of Korea, will be particularly important, he added.
“I am looking forward to each of these bilaterals, because in the bilateral meetings, you can go deeper and wider into the specifics of the differences,” Hagel said. “And I’m looking forward to the meeting I will have with my Chinese counterpart.” When he visited Beijing in April, Hagel said he addressed the specifics of the differences that the United States and China have. “And the only way to deal with those differences is to be direct and upfront,” he added.
Two weeks ago, the secretary noted in emphasizing the ongoing U.S. military relationship with China, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Martin E. Dempsey — who also is in Singapore to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue — hosted the senior Chinese military leader at the Pentagon.
“It’s clearly in both China and the U.S. interest to continue to build that relationship,” Hagel said, “if for no other reason than assure both sides as best we can and the nations of Asia-Pacific that we have some sense of each other’s intentions, we have some ability to communicate when tensions rise, we have mechanisms [and] bridges to deal with those before they get beyond our ability to deal with them.
“So we’ll continue to focus on that,” he continued. “But also, when we talk about Asia-Pacific and what the Shangri-La Dialogue is all about, this is an area of the world that is growing, it’s prospering. It’s an area that’s presenting more and more opportunities for more and more people, but also more and more challenges.”
Among those challenges, the secretary said, is the critical importance of open, free sea lanes and airways for commerce.
“The nations of this region, Asia-Pacific, rely on those freedoms — individual rights. So, we’ll talk about that,” he said. “We’ll talk about tensions and what’s going on in some specific terms. But at the same time, we still have to develop relationships of cooperation, and we do have areas that we cooperate, as well as directly confronting not just areas of competition, but where we think China is overplaying its hand and is presenting new challenges and new tensions to this area.”