Working Together for the Future of the Indo Pacific Region

Indian Ocean Region Conference

September 3-4, 2019

As Prepared for Delivery –

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s truly an honor to be here with you at the 4th Indian Ocean Conference. Thank you, India Foundation, for organizing such an impressive gathering of stakeholders at this vitally important time, in this amazing place, to address the challenges before us.

Let me congratulate President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and the Maldivian people for their victory in last year’s elections, and their commitment to the democratic process. As a fellow democracy, the United States looks forward to working closely with Malé to expand cooperation on our shared interests in an independent and prosperous Maldives as well as a free and open Indian Ocean region.

On a personal note, I’m excited to be here with all of you, in Maldives and to join my friend and colleague Ambassador to Maldives and Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz. This is my first visit to this beautiful country and I see why seasoned travelers are flocking to enjoy “the sunny side of life” here. In my short time here in Malé, I’ve been struck by Maldives’ deep and close relationship to the sea. As a lifelong Navy man and avid fisherman, no wonder I feel so much at home here! I’m sure you will agree with Arthur C. Clarke, iconic science fiction author and longtime resident of Sri Lanka, who said “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when it’s clearly Ocean.”

And speaking of oceans, of all our planet’s bodies of water, the Indian and Pacific Oceans are where the future of Earth will be determined. Today, over half the world’s population live in the Indo-Pacific. By 2050, 7 out of 10 people who walk the planet will live in this region. Even today, the trade routes through these seas form the central arteries of the global economy, with 60 percent of all maritime trade transiting through the waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. Strategically, virtually all of the world’s key maritime chokepoints face the Indo-Pacific…from the Panama Canal to the Strait of Malacca…to the Strait of Bab el Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz. Changes in our climate threaten the region with an uncertain future, as all of you here in Maldives know all too well. This region is already one of the greatest engines of global economic growth, and it will only grow in importance in the future.

Four of the world’s six largest economies are found here: China, Japan, India – and of course, the United States. The ten countries of the ASEAN community are the fastest-growing economic zone in the world. And the concentration of population and economic activity in this region will present special challenges in regard to the demand for food, energy, housing and, most importantly, freedoms. Modern life everywhere depends on this region’s stability.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of the globe depends on choices made today in the vast Indo-Pacific.

All this said, if you’re wondering why the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea is speaking to you today…well…me, too! I suppose it could be that this is an area of the world I’ve visited and thought about across a 40-year military career. In my previous job as the U.S. PACOM commander, I spoke at the first three Raisina Dialogues in New Delhi and I was the first four star American commander to visit Sri Lanka in a decade when I spoke at the Galle Dialogue in Sri Lanka in 2017.

I worked closely with the former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Atul Keshap, to normalize military-to-military relations with Colombo. And I know our current Ambassador, Alaina Teplitz, from her days as the U.S. Ambassador to Nepal. Most recently I had the privilege of getting to know our impressive Ambassador in New Delhi, Ken Juster.

As I look over the strategic landscape, I believe there isn’t a more dynamic place than the Indo-Pacific to serve as a U.S. diplomat. I truly love my job, a large part of which entails strengthening the U.S. commitment to the Indo-Pacific region. So I’m going to speak to you today through the twin lenses of my past life as the PACOM commander and my current life as the U.S. Ambassador to Korea.

The challenges in this part of the world are great and the stakes are high, for the United States, for our partners and allies and, I would argue, for the globe. This conference has addressed serious and challenging issues. Some of them might be intimidating – how in the world are we going to address issues like rising sea levels for island nations like Maldives…or state sponsors of terror who seek nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them intercontinentally…or disagreements rooted in history that threaten to tear asunder deeply important security frameworks essential to peace, prosperity, and stability…or human rights for millions of people, especially women and children who are often the victims of oppression and modern-day slavery…or freedom of navigation in disputed waters? That’s why conferences such as these, and increased information sharing across the region by all countries is critically important as we seek solutions to these seemingly intractable problems.

Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake about it. The United States is an Indo Pacific nation…always has been and always will be. We are part of the region geographically…much of our citizenry – me included – are from the region…our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are buried across the region…and our future is inextricably linked to the region. The United States has only five bilateral defense alliances in the world…and all of them are in the Indo-Pacific. American engagement — as investor, producer, consumer, stabilizer — has contributed to the economic momentum we see in this region today. Our robust relationships in the Indo-Pacific include three free trade agreements and 14 Trade and Investment Framework Agreements. The United States alone conducted over $1.8 trillion — that’s trillion with a “T” — in two-way trade with the Indo-Pacific in 2017.

The Trump administration remains focused on building strong, reciprocal, and balanced bilateral trade and investment relationships throughout the region. Our efforts in this regard include the updated free trade agreement (KORUS) with South Korea, which continues to increase two-way trade and investment and decrease our trade deficit. In fact, across the Indo-Pacific, we have free trade agreements with Australia, Korea, and Singapore. America’s economic ties in the Indo-Pacific are extensive, touching nearly every sector of the economy. The value of U.S. foreign direct investment in the region has more than doubled over the last decade and today is nearly $1 trillion. No country has invested more in this region than the United States. Importantly, unlike some other countries I could name, when we invest, we create jobs, not debt – both in the region and in the United States. Today U.S. investments support over 5.1 million jobs in the Indo-Pacific region.

I say all this not to brag, but to erase any lingering doubts about our commitment to the region. But I get it. All that is in the past, you say. America, what have you done for me lately? Well, let me tell you.

What we bring going forward is vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific region. President Trump announced this vision in Vietnam in the fall of 2017. Secretary Pompeo built on this vision at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum last summer. Vice President Pence further expanded the details in his speech at the Hudson Institute, and then at APEC in Papua New Guinea last fall. This vision is built on our belief that Indo-Pacific nations should be independent, strong, and satellites to none. It rests on three pillars: Economics, Security, and Governance. It’s our proclamation to the entire region about how we intend to work with our friends, allies, and partners.

And, we have followed up our words with action. The U.S. BUILD Act and Asia Reassurance Initiative Act show in concrete terms our real commitment to the region and our determination to fight for our principles. The BUILD Act, signed into law last October, created the new U.S. Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which will have a lending limit of $60 billion, more than double the current limit. The DFC will offer loans, loan guarantees, and risk insurance to support new investments. It will also make equity investments and fund feasibility studies, making it even easier to collaborate with partner finance institutions.

These efforts will unlock billions of dollars from the private sector for investments in the region.

We have also launched the Transaction Advisory Fund, seeded with an initial $10 million, to fund targeted transaction advisory services in developing countries. The aim is to bolster Indo-Pacific countries’ ability to implement sustainable, transparent, and high-quality infrastructure projects.

The U.S. commitment to the Indo-Pacific is unequivocal, and we’re not alone. U.S. commitment to the rule of law, peace, and prosperity are shared by the vast majority of the countries in the region and this will form the basis of our shared ability to meet the challenges of the future.

As the U.S. Ambassador in Seoul, I’m astonished and feel very blessed to witness first hand an ever-vibrant and growing partnership that boasts a long record of success. Let me show you what I think is the best visual illustration of what the U.S. and South Korea have accomplished together ….. a photograph from space. This photograph never ceases to amaze me. You might have seen it, but let me bring it up on the screen to show you again.

It’s a picture of the two Koreas seen at night from well above the Earth. This photo represents choice and the power of partnership. In 1953, the Republic of Korea made choices. They chose democracy, an alliance with the United States, and close partnerships with other free and open countries. The North made different choices…the outcome of which are vividly seen in this photo.

Together, the U.S. and the Republic of Korea have weathered the storms of war and have worked together and with other like-minded nations to produce one of the greatest economic success stories the world has known.

From one of the poorest nations to one of the richest, within three decades! From an aid recipient country to a donor. From a mostly agrarian economy to an advanced, high-tech economy that embraces democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law. Think about all that. That’s why the ROK has such credibility in the developing world when it provides development assistance to other countries.

The U.S.-ROK Alliance continues to serve as the foundation for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and as the cornerstone for security and stability throughout the region. Of course, North Korea continues to pose a persistent challenge with its UN-proscribed weapons programs, but we’re in a far more optimistic place today, than we were just over a year and a half ago when I wore a different uniform.

Together, we’ve witnessed three meetings between President Moon Jae-in and Chairman Kim Jong Un, and three meetings between President Trump and Chairman Kim – developments that were unimaginable just a short time ago. President Trump in June joined hands with Chairman Kim and President Moon at the DMZ in a truly historic encounter. That moment clearly demonstrated the strength of the U.S.-ROK Alliance and our unity in advancing mutual hopes for peace, prosperity, and stability on the Korean Peninsula and more broadly, in the Indo-Pacific region. It also demonstrated the power of innovative, out-of-the box thinking.

But, Korea, obviously, isn’t the only success story in the region. Just look at our relationship with Japan. Once a bitter enemy in war, today Japan is one of our greatest partners. Our extremely close economic, security, and people-to-people ties would have been unimaginable in the 1940s. Together we overcame the divisions of the past to forge an exceptionally close partnership as we work hand-in-hand to bring peace and prosperity to many parts of the globe.

And for a more recent example, consider Vietnam. We fought a fierce war with the Vietnamese but since the normalization of relations in 1995 our relationship has completely changed. Today Vietnam is a close partner, and our relationship continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

Finally, our relationship with India is a further illustration. In the last nineteen years the U.S.-India relationship has finally lived up to the promise President Eisenhower saw in his 1959 visit, when he said “Between the oldest democracy on earth and the largest lie 10,000 miles of land and ocean. But in our fundamental ideas and convictions about democracy, we are very close neighbors.” Or, when former Prime Minister Vajpayee in 1998 called the two countries “natural allies.”
In 2004, the U.S. – India relationship transformed into a “Strategic Partnership” under the leadership of former President Bush and PM Vajpayee.

It took some time to realize this vision, but today we have arrived. I fully share Ambassador Juster’s evaluation that the current U.S.-India relationship is “as broad, complex, and rich in substance as any bilateral relationship in the world”. We went from rarely talking to each other to not only talking together but taking action together. Skepticism, suspicion, and doubt on both sides have been replaced by cooperation, dialogue, and trust. I am exceptionally optimistic about our future partnership and can’t wait to see what our nations can do together.

Our Indo-Pacific vision is about developing such deep and respectful relationships. Partnerships like the one we have with South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and others are – based on security, respect for the rule of law, and mutually beneficial economic development. I submit to you that these ideas resonate throughout the region – though, sadly, are not extant everywhere in the region.
But we can aspire…and we, together, can accomplish much. I do believe we are part of a growing awakening about the global importance of the Indo-Pacific region.

I also see a convergence among our closest partners around the idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific. These values are reflected in President Moon’s “New Southern Policy” for expanding engagement with South and Southeast Asia. Under the pillars of “People, Peace, and Prosperity,” this initiative demonstrates a shared vision for the region that highlights a natural harmony with our own Indo-Pacific vision.

Prime Minister Modi at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last year, put forth a similar vision as he described India’s Act East policy. He pointed to the great importance of the region when he said: “the destiny of the world will be deeply influenced by the course of developments in the Indo-Pacific region.” He also said “… when the oceans are open, the seas are secure, countries are connected, the rule of law prevails, and the region is stable, nations, small and large, prosper as sovereign countries.” This is precisely the rationale for the U.S. Indo-Pacific vision, which Prime Minister Modi acknowledged as an important pillar of the U.S.-India global partnership.

The same principles are the foundation of Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. As do we, Japan believes that a free and open maritime order in the Indo-Pacific region includes the promotion and establishment of rule of law, freedom of navigation, free trade, economic prosperity, and a commitment to peace and stability. These principles are “international public goods” which will bring stability and prosperity for the region as a whole.

Our Australian friends also agree. Australia’s “A Stable and Prosperous Indo-Pacific” strategy focuses on dispute resolution in accordance with international law, open markets, economic integration, freedom of navigation and overflight, protection of small states, and cooperation with like-minded nations to achieve these goals.

New Zealand, last year, as part of its Pacific Reset, put together a very clear-eyed document that spoke to similar ideals.
And we welcome ASEAN’s “Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.” Most ASEAN ministers and all like-minded ministers expressed support for this vision, which was adopted by ASEAN leaders last June. ASEAN Chair Thailand underscored its focus on inclusive, equitable, and collective growth. The ministers highlighted the principles promoted in ASEAN’s Outlook, including ASEAN centrality, transparency, inclusiveness, and rule of law. The Philippines described the Outlook as “focused on the South China Sea but keeping the Indian Ocean in mind.” It was also good to see Russia supporting the “balanced stance” ASEAN’s Outlook takes on cooperation and its focus on guiding ties for ASEAN with the broader region.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me now speak briefly about China. China is a great power, an economic powerhouse, and a cultural center of gravity. The United States partners well with China on a number of important fronts, including counter-piracy here in the Indian Ocean and the ongoing efforts to achieve the final, fully-verified denuclearization of North Korea. But, the United States and China fundamentally disagree on how to approach the current international order. The Chinese government doesn’t keep its word, from its treaty with the British on Hong Kong, to its WTO commitments, to its human-rights.

This is why we have made very clear, through the Indo-Pacific Vision, that the United States rejects foreign policy based on leverage and dominance, and seeks instead to strengthen relationships based on respect, equal footing, and fair exchange.

You can see the intimidation in China’s militarization of the South China Sea in defiance of international law. As Secretary Pompeo said, “China’s bullying in the South China Sea reflects a broader choice for nations in the region: coercion and control, or freedom and the rule of law.” China’s continuing interference with and escalatory behavior towards Vietnam’s longstanding oil and gas activities in Vietnam’s EEZ is deeply concerning. It calls into serious question China’s commitment, including in the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes.

You can see it in the predatory economic policies behind China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which ignores international norms on transparency and entices countries into a debt trap that leaves them vulnerable to coercion and threatens their sovereignty.

You can see that divergence of values in how China is treating Muslim Uighurs — their own citizens — in Western China. In fact, the Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding.

China’s diplomacy seeks to force ASEAN members to define codes of conduct in the region as dictated by Beijing and conforming to Chinese standards.

I was very glad to see that ASEAN countries were positive about code of conduct negotiations under international maritime law. Several reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight.

A final word or 2 about China. I want to stress that despite our concerns about its actions, we do not seek to “contain” China. Again, we enjoy a productive bilateral economic relationship with China, as do many, if not most, countries in the world. This is right and good. We welcome China’s participation in a rules-based international order, and we remind Beijing frequently of the prosperity that order has created for China, liberating hundreds of millions of people and lifting billions of people out of poverty.

As Ambassador Teplitz says, “The world is safer and more secure when strong, sovereign, and capable nations partner together. The United States is working to expand economic opportunity around the world, because we know that transparency and inclusive economic growth improves lives. We believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Together. Moving forward. Those words are placed throughout my remarks, and permeate almost everything the United States seeks to do in the region. Moving forward. Together. Or, as my Indian friends would say: Saath Saath. Aage Chalein. Together. Moving forward. Standing up for values that ensure our joint security and prosperity. Linking Americans and Asians, generation to generation … keeping the scale of freedom tipping in mankind’s favor.

We have to look ahead. With persistence. With imagination. With determination and resolve.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve talked too long, so let me close with this thought. As the U.S. Ambassador to Seoul, I often speak about the myriad connections between our countries that were once unimaginable. Ours is a partnership with many aspects, but most importantly, it’s a partnership infused by deeply shared values and interests.

We seek close relationships throughout the Indo-Pacific region…relationships underpinned by the rule of law, sovereignty, a commitment to fair and reciprocal trade, open commerce, and the freedom of navigation. Only in this way can we, together, uphold the principles that allow all of us to enjoy security and prosperity and enable us to face the challenges of the future with confidence.

Thank you.