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 News Article

U.S.-ASEAN Forum Deepens Partnerships, Increases Opportunities

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

HONOLULU, April 3, 2014 – Success during the first U.S.-ASEAN Defense Forum held in the United States has strengthened friendships among nations and increased partnership opportunities that will help everyone in the region deal with new and enduring Asia-Pacific security challenges, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said here today.

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefs reporters after holding a forum for defense ministers with the Association for Southeast Asian Nations in Honolulu, April 3, 2014. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The 10 defense ministers of member countries that constitute the Association of Southeast Asian Nations accepted Hagel’s June invitation and participated in the discussions and roundtables with purpose and energy, the secretary said during the forum’s final news conference.

“This gathering was an important milestone in America's growing engagement with the ASEAN nations, and another signal of the important role ASEAN has to play in promoting regional stability and prosperity,” Hagel observed.

The Defense Department hosted the meeting, but the forum benefited from the participation of partners across the federal government, the secretary added, especially during yesterday’s session on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations hosted by Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, and moderated by Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID.

“Coming only hours after a tsunami advisory was lifted for Hawaii, the NOAA presentation and roundtable underscored that natural disasters and humanitarian crises will [define 21st century] security challenges, not only for Southeast Asia, but for the world,” Hagel said.

“We can expect that the frequency and the complexity of disaster relief and humanitarian assistance missions will increase,” he noted, adding that such missions demand cooperation among nations and across their government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and their private sectors.

“The discussions we had yesterday, which focused on lessons learned from recent operations, will help identify new proposals to improve our preparedness and cooperation in the future,” he told reporters.

In discussions yesterday, for example, Singapore proposed using Changi Naval Base as a regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief crisis coordination center.

“This could be an important venue for nations in the region to coordinate military responses to disasters, and it's an idea that we're going to pursue,” the secretary said. “This was among many ideas that came out of our last couple of days of discussions.”

Discussions today addressed a range of regional security matters, including improving maritime security cooperation and addressing tensions in the South China Sea, Hagel said.

“I told the ministers that the United States is increasingly concerned about the instability arising from territorial disputes in the South China Sea,” he added. “The rights of all nations must be respected. It's important that all claimants avoid the use or threat of force or intimidation or coercion.”

He said the United States urges all claimants of land in the disputes to clarify their claims, including the basis of the claims in international law, and to use internationally accepted rules and standards of behavior.

Tomorrow, the secretary said, he will continue the rest of his fourth official visit to the Asia-Pacific region, including stops in Japan, China and Mongolia.

“This trip and the ASEAN-U.S. Forum shows America's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific remains a critical part of our national security strategy,” Hagel said. “We are committed to the security and the prosperity of the region because of our interests, and also [because of] our close relationships, alliances and commitments.”

He added, “America has a long-standing engagement and commitment with the Asia-Pacific region. It's a commitment that we will continue to meet in the 21st century.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinAFPS)

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