Shared Maritime Domain Awareness Workshop

APCSS, Hawaii

Ambassador Hachigian – Good morning everyone, and Aloha.  It is my great pleasure to join you all today.  I wish I could stay with you and participate in this great workshop over the next four days.

I would like to thank Admiral Locklear for inviting me, and, more importantly, for hosting this opportunity to exchange views and deepen cooperation on maritime domain awareness.  Thanks also to Lieutenant General Retired Dan Leaf, Director of the newly-renamed Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, or APCSS.  I’d also like to recognize Admiral Locklear and Director Leaf’s staffs for all their hard work in planning this event.

Most importantly, though, I’d like to thank all of you, the representatives of over forty ministries and agencies in ten ASEAN countries, for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here.  It is your presence and your commitment to this event that will determine its success.  The staff of APCSS, and of PACOM, and all of the U.S. interagency representatives are here to facilitate, and to listen.  It is up to you to actively participate and to present the issues as you see them in a diplomatic but truthful and candid manner.  It is only through your active contributions that together, we will determine the best way forward for information sharing on these critical issues.

As I flew in this morning, looking at the blue water all around us here on Oahu, which I am told translates as “The Gathering Place,” I was struck by how appropriate it is for all of us to meet here to discuss maritime security.  Water has long had a connecting quality, within and among the societies in the Southeast Asia region.  Whether it is the irrigation canals that bind societies together in wet rice agricultural systems, or the critical sea trade routes that link Southeast Asians to each other and to the world, or the mighty Pacific, which joins America and Asia, water serves to connect.

The sense of community that water brings about is what brings us here together, to take a community approach to problem solving—in this case, to make sure you have a comprehensive understanding about your shared maritime domain.

I hope that your Heads of Delegation and Director Leaf give you an opportunity to get out and enjoy some of that water while you’re here in Hawaii…but in the meantime, I’m here to talk to you about work.

Southeast Asia is a center of stability and prosperity in Asia.  As we look around the world at the challenges and turmoil faced by many other regions, which are similarly diverse in terms of religion, language, history and economic development, Southeast Asia stands in stark contrast.  ASEAN leaders made a conscious decision not to resolve differences with military force, but peacefully.  And 48 years later, that agreement still holds.

But there are new threats to the region now—transnational challenges that require you and all of us to work together more closely, and to share more information, than ever before.  Given the nature of Southeast Asia’s geography, maritime domain awareness is a critical foundation to multilateral engagement on many of these challenges.  If we do not know what is happening in the shared maritime spaces in the region, we will assume risk in many areas—in trade, in management of our economic resources, in our international relationships, in security, in disaster and accident response, and in preservation of the environment.

By nature of location and of your ability to ensure freedom of navigation and movement of trade, Southeast Asia has become a linchpin in the world economy.  $5.3 trillion in world trade flows through regional waters each year.  Intra-ASEAN trade will continue to increase as economies grow and as the ASEAN Economic Community proceeds forward with its goal of better integration.  Freedom of navigation is an important element of this growth.

And while we have not seen the issue of competing claims in the region disrupt trade routes, one way of ensuring trade continues to flow through and into this region, creating prosperity for the citizens of ASEAN, is by ensuring you all have a common, shared picture of maritime activities.

Southeast Asia is much more than a trade route, of course. In my recent conversations with my counterpart ambassadors to ASEAN in Jakarta, a reoccurring theme is the threat of the Islamic State, and the movement of Foreign Terrorist Fighters. The potential for them to bring extremism and violence to the stable and tolerant political environments of Southeast Asia is a real concern for many in the region.  al-Qaeda, in its recently launched English language online magazine “Resurgence”, has called for the disruption of global trade and shipping through acts of piracy, among other tactics.  With better maritime domain awareness, you can discourage the movements of illegal immigrants and weapons, and ensure such organizations do not have the opportunity to interfere with your stability.

And the threat is not just limited to extremist organizations.  Criminal trafficking in persons is a constant threat to the underprivileged and underrepresented of Southeast Asia, and many of you are making great progress in countering these crimes.  The U.S. Government, including the U.S. Mission to ASEAN, just contributed $225,000 in emergency funds to support the efforts by the Government of Indonesia and the International Organization for Migration (or IOM) to rescue hundreds of Burmese, Cambodian, Lao, and Thai fishermen who are victims of forced labor and remain stranded on remote islands in Eastern Indonesia.

ASEAN is also doing very important work against wildlife trafficking under the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, or ASEAN WEN.  Shared awareness of the maritime environment  will also support this.  Add to this the movement of illegal narcotics, illegal weapons, piracy and theft at sea, and illegal oil trade on the high seas, and we see the critical importance of information sharing.  All of these threats can be mitigated by the important work that you all are doing and will do.

Criminal and terrorist activity are a big reason why we need better shared awareness, but there are also unexpected accidents.  In just over a year, we have been called to respond to two airline disasters at sea.  The responses to both MH370 and Air Asia Flight 8501 provided ample lessons learned.  While we hope and pray this won’t happen again, the most critical lesson learned is that preparation—from private sector training, to civil aviation coordination, to relationships among responding agencies—will be in great part based on, and facilitated by, shared information.  Rapid response to any future incidents will be driven by shared maritime awareness, which will enable effective search and rescue.

These same approaches toward information sharing, and the skill sets and capabilities that drive them, can also support disaster response.  The ASEAN Member States have long demonstrated your ability to mount effective responses to natural disasters.  Importantly, many of you have been extremely effective in transitioning from unilateral, domestic responses to an ability to respond across the region.  As you continue to look at your post-2015 ASEAN vision, these regional responses are becoming more coordinated, and more streamlined.  Along with the AHA Center and its transition to increased regional capacity, your defense chiefs also signed off on a future ASEAN Militaries HADR Ready Group initiative this past March.  Key pieces of this exciting response capability will be information sharing and potentially, increased maritime domain awareness.

In the face of necessity, it is ASEAN’s ability to utilize ASEAN-centered mechanisms and meetings—like this one—to drive future cooperation, which has truly made a difference.  So we look forward to seeing the results of this meeting.

Nearly every country represented in this room places great economic emphasis on fisheries activities.  The oceans provide the people of Southeast Asia and the world a critical source of protein; fish protein accounts for more than 22 percent of the average Asian diet, according to a 2013 study, and the percentage is much higher in many ASEAN Member States. Forty percent of the world’s tuna are born in the South China Sea.  Fisheries in the South China Sea are a multibillion dollar industry.  Therefore, an important issue to ASEAN Member States, and to the United States, is Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing, or IUU Fishing.  But because fish move in and out of territorial waters, only regional solutions can work.

The bounty of the region is still being discovered; Southeast Asian waters have more marine biodiversity than anywhere else in the world. Between the food produced in the ocean, economic revenues linked to them, and wondrous marine splendor with the potential of supplying life-saving compounds, it is clear that these marine ecosystems are vital to regional and global well-being.

Yet, this marine bounty, and by extension, the food security of the region’s people is threatened.  IUU fishing is widespread.  Common methods such as dynamite fishing, cyanide poisoning, and bottom trawling have wreaked havoc in regional ecosystems and threaten the future of the regional fishing industry.  Forty percent of the South China Sea’s fish stocks have already disappeared and seventy percent of the South China Sea’s coral reefs are rated to be in fair or poor condition.  The list of endangered species in the South China Sea keeps growing, but assaults against this fragile ecosystem continue. Green sea turtles and Hawksbill turtles are endangered.  Yet poaching turtles remains common.  Millions of sharks are slaughtered solely for their fins each year.  Tuna are consistently over-fished.

Approaches such as Flag State Control and the Port State Measures initiative are important steps.  However, in order to shut down IUU fishing, it is contingent on our coast guards, our maritime police, our defense ministries, our transportation agencies, our foreign affairs ministries—all of us in the room—to ensure we are informed as to the sources, the locations, and the scope of the problem, that we are speaking the same language, and that we are seeing the same picture of the problem.  Shared awareness will ensure that this critical industry continues to support food security and jobs in Southeast Asia—and well beyond.

Closely related to these issues are the overlapping claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.  Part of the reason for the tensions surrounding these claims is that fishing boats are traveling farther and farther from territorial waters where no fish remain.  And, of course, China’s massive land reclamation efforts are having environmental, in addition to political and security consequences.  As you all know, the United States does not take a position on the specifics of territorial and maritime claims.  We do encourage all claimants to pursue diplomatic and other peaceful approaches to managing and resolving these disputes in the South China Sea.   We also support the spirit and word of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea—in particular, the agreement by all signatories “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”  The United States and many other nations have a strong national interest in seeing these territorial disputes resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law.  Shared awareness and exchange of information, which you are here to discuss, are important steps in this process.

What is hopeful to me is that ASEAN countries have a great example of success in their own region, where Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand are controlling piracy and addressing environmental disasters in the Straits of Malacca.  Within a decade, a combination of coordinated surface patrols, aerial patrols, and surface radar systems was able to reduce piracy in the straits from over fifty attacks per year to less than five.  Now, this solution was very specific to the straits, but it certainly provides a strong basis for analysis as we look at the way forward.

Each of you in the room comes here with your own sovereignty considerations, threat perceptions, enforcement capabilities, and budgetary priorities—but the key is that communication and information continue to flow.  I am hopeful that your next four days in Hawaii will provide an opportunity for you to communicate openly about key issues with your fellow representatives of ASEAN Member States and with the U.S. government representatives in the room.  We want to hear your perspectives.  These conversations and collaboration will shape our future engagement.  I look forward to hearing from your facilitators about the results of your work.

Radars, ships, patrol boats, communications networks, databases—these are not my area of expertise.  However, clear, open communication and sharing information is my business.  I am hopeful that as you proceed with this workshop, you focus on clear communication and understanding, and a variety of shared solutions, in order to make progress towards your goals.  And if you continue to sustain this level of coordination within ASEAN, I’m confident you will make progress.  Thank you for your time, best of luck this week, and…. Aloha!