The United States urges China, Vietnam, and other countries which have competing territorial claims in the East Sea to adhere to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) they signed in 2002, and to work together for “a binding Code of Conduct,” U.S. Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Saturday in a speech at a security summit in Singapore.
Defense Secretary Hagel is attending the 2013 Shangri-La Security Dialogue where Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung hailed the U.S. as a Pacific power and “would expect and support the [role] of the United States … once [its] strategies and actions conform to international law and respect the independence and sovereignty of [Asia-Pacific] nations” in his keynote address on Friday.
Hagel told the audience, composed of defense ministers, heads of ministries and military chiefs of Asia-Pacific states, that “the U.S. continues to call on all claimants in [the East Sea] to exercise restraint as they publicly pledged” in the 2002 DOC, and to seek peaceful means to resolve these incidents.
The U.S. also welcomes efforts to start talks on a Code of Conduct for the East Sea, he noted.
“We encourage claimants to explore all peaceful means of settling their territorial disputes and the use of the dispute adjudication resolution mechanisms provided by the Law of the Sea Convention,” he insisted, adding that, “Such efforts should not hinder progress towards developing a binding Code of Conduct.”
He confirmed that the relationships between the U.S. and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members are critical, and that he was inviting ASEAN Defense Ministers to first-ever U.S.-hosted meeting in Hawaii next year.
He added that the U.S. is expanding cooperation with Vietnam in maritime security, training opportunities, search-and-rescue, peacekeeping, military medical exchanges, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The U.S. has an interest in how maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific region are addressed and settled, the Vietnam War veteran asserted, warning that it “stands firmly against any coercive attempts to alter the status quo.”
“We strongly believe that incidents and disputes should be settled in a manner that maintains peace and security, adheres to international law, and protects unimpeded lawful commerce, as well as freedom of navigation and overflight,” Hagel said.
‘Pivot to Asia’ keeps going on
Hagel maintained that the U.S. will go ahead with its ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy by continually deploying forces to the region as it is pulling out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite spending cuts at home.
The U.S. will continue to represent nearly 40 percent of global defense expenditures even under the most extreme budget scenarios, Hagel underlined.
“I can assure you that … the United States will continue to implement the rebalance and prioritize our posture, activities and investments in Asia-Pacific,” the chief of the Pentagon said.
The U.S. Air Force has allocated 60 percent of its overseas-based forces to the Asia-Pacific following his predecessor Leon Panetta’s annoucement last year that America will forward base 60 percent of its naval assets in the Pacific by 2020, Hagel pointed out.
“In the future, this region will see more of these capabilities as we prioritize deployments of our most advanced platforms to the Pacific, including the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter deployments to Japan, and a fourth Virginia-class fast attack submarine forward deployed to Guam,” Hagel told the conference.
“America’s enduring commitment to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region depends on sustaining the ability to deter aggression and operate effectively across all domains, including air, sea, land, space, and cyberspace.”
Chinese cyber espionage
Hagel also highlighted cyber threats, accusing China of recent cyber attacks, while maintaining that the U.S. is “clear-eyed about the challenges in cyber.”
“The United States has expressed our concerns about the growing threat of cyber intrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military,” he said.
He expressed a belief that the establishment of a cyber working group is a positive step in fostering U.S.-China dialogue on cyber, without forgeting to underscore that the U.S. is also increasing investment in cyber security and deepening cyber cooperation with allies in the region and across the globe.
The Air Force is focusing about 60 percent of its space and cyber capabilities on the region, Hagel elaborated.
“With Australia, we are expanding cooperation related to cyber security and space situational awareness,” he said, adding that next week he will attend a NATO Defense Ministers meetig dedicated to cybersecurity.
The defense chief contended that America’s commitment to Asia-Pacific depends on its ability to deter aggression and operate effectively across all domains, including cyberspace.