The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Remarks by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon -- As Prepared for Delivery
“President Obama’s Asia Policy & Upcoming Trip to Asia”
Good morning everyone, and thank you Dr. Hamre—for your introduction, your friendship and your contributions to our nation, both in government and here at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It is wonderful to be at CSIS. For half a century, your research, scholarship and analysis has in many ways been the intellectual capital that has informed so many of our national security policies, including during the Obama Administration.
We’ve shared ideas and we’ve shared staff. That includes the topic that brings me here today—our strategy with regard to the Asia Pacific. And it includes individuals who have served in both government and CSIS—including Matt Goodman. As a member of our National Security Staff, Matt was essential to much of the President’s international economic diplomacy. To Matt, and all of you—especially the ambassadors I see from many ASEAN nations—thank you for being here.
In less than 48 hours, President Obama will embark on his first foreign trip since his reelection. He’ll travel to Thailand, make an historic visit to Burma, and conclude his trip in Cambodia for the East Asia Summit. His decision to travel to Asia so soon after his reelection speaks to the importance that he places on the region and its centrality to so many of our national security interests and priorities.
What I’d like to do today is step back and put this trip in context: how it fits into the President’s broader approach to national security; how the President’s rebalancing toward the Asia Pacific advances our national security interests; and how this trip furthers each pillar or our multidimensional strategy toward the region. And given the decades of experience in the region represented in this room, I look forward to taking your questions and engaging in a discussion.
I’d start by noting that in every Administration, one of the great challenges in the implementation and execution of foreign policy is to prevent daily challenges and cascading crises from crowding out the development of broader strategies in pursuit of long-term interests. That’s why, from the outset of the Administration—in the very first days—the President directed those of us on his national security team to engage in a strategic assessment, a truly global examination of our presence and priorities.
We asked what America’s footprint and face to the world was and what it ought to be. We set out to identify the key national security interests that we needed to pursue. We looked around the world and asked, where are we over-weighted? Where are we underweighted?
That assessment resulted in a set of key determinations. It was clear that there was an imbalance in the projection and focus of American power. It was the President’s judgment that we were over-weighted in some areas and regions, such as our military commitments in the Middle East. At the same time, we were underweighted in other regions, such as the Asia Pacific.
Guided by these determinations, we set out to rebalance our posture in the world. And so you saw, first and foremost, a preeminent focus on recovering from the Great Recession and restoring American economic strength, which is the bedrock of American power. We set out to revitalize key alliances—our deep network of treaty allies from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which are a uniquely American asset. We decided to engage more deeply in international and regional organizations, which advance our interests.
The President ended the war in Iraq, re-focused and reenergized our counterterrorism efforts, and has since charted a path for transition in Afghanistan. In doing so, the President dramatically improved America’s strategic freedom of maneuver so that our posture aligns with our interests in a changing world and a dynamic region.
But renewing our leadership also meant rebalancing our foreign policy to ensure that our focus and our resources matched our priorities. And it meant a laser-like focus on enduring national interests whose significance cannot be measured by banner headlines and cable news sound bites—interests that will dominate the 21st Century.
The President therefore made a critical decision as part of this global look—again, at the very outset of the administration—to increase our focus on the Asia Pacific, in terms of resources; diplomatic activity and engagement, both with nations and with regional institutions; and in terms of policy. As many of you know, Secretary Clinton became the first Secretary of State since Dean Rusk, in 1961, to go to Asia on an inaugural trip. The first foreign leader the President met with in the Oval Office was from Asia—the prime minister of Japan. These were early and powerful signals from the President that this region would be a priority.
Our approach is grounded in a simple proposition: the United States is a Pacific power whose interests are inextricably linked with Asia’s economic, security and political order. America’s success in the 21st century is tied to the success of Asia.
Economically, it’s impossible to overstate Asia’s importance to the global economy and to our own. Asia accounts for about a quarter of global GDP at market exchange rates, and is expected to grow to nearly 30 percent by 2015. The region is estimated to account for nearly 50 percent of all global growth outside the United States through 2017. The region accounts for 25 percent of U.S. goods and services exports, and 30 percent of our goods and services imports. An estimated 2.4 million Americans now have jobs supported by exports to Asia, and this number is growing. In short, robust U.S. trade and investment in Asia will continue to be critical for our economic recovery and our long-term economic strength.
In terms of security, it is widely recognized that regional security—which is the foundation for the region’s phenomenal economic growth in recent decades—requires a stabilizing American presence. The U.S. has security obligations to our allies and partners in the region, which is home to several of the world’s biggest militaries and flashpoints such as the Korean Peninsula. Events like the Fukushima nuclear incident and the Indonesia tsunami made clear that the U.S. remains uniquely capable of delivering non-traditional security like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well.
Our renewed commitment to the Asia Pacific also flows from the demand for U.S. leadership from nations across the region. In addition to traditional security challenges and new demands for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, there is a demand for American economic engagement and trade integration as well a strengthening of regional institutions, codes of conduct and the rule of law to resolve disputes, and the protection of individual human rights.
We also have a mutual interest in deepening and enhancing engagement on sustainable energy.
Guided by these interests, the President has been clear about the future we seek. He laid out our vision in Canberra last year. In short, our overarching objective is to sustain a stable security environment and a regional order rooted in economic openness, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic governance, and political freedom.
This objective stems from our long-term vision of Asia. We aspire to see a region where the rise of new powers occurs peacefully; where the freedom to access the sea, air, space, and cyberspace empowers vibrant commerce; where multinational forums help promote shared interests; and where citizens increasingly have the ability to influence their governments and universal human rights are upheld. This is the future we seek, in partnership with allies and friends.
How are we pursuing these objectives? What are the elements of this approach? We are pursuing a sustained and multi-dimensional strategy. I know that the security elements of our strategy often attract the most attention. But I want to be very clear about what this rebalancing effort is and what it is not. It is not simply about a shifting of military resources, although we are indeed ensuring that our resources follow our priorities. Nor is our rebalancing effort an attempt to contain any other nation.
The rebalancing of our posture toward the Asia Pacific harnesses every element of our national power. It is a long-term effort to better position ourselves for the opportunities and challenges we’re most likely to face in this century. And our effort continues along several distinct lines of effort.
First, we have strengthened and modernized our security alliances across the region.
• We have succeeded in upgrading and modernizing our alliance with Japan, including improved interoperability and coordination on roles, missions, and capabilities.
• With the Republic of Korea, we have implemented a joint vision for enhanced security cooperation, we’re implementing the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, and we’ve supported the emergence of a “Global Korea” that contributes to global security, including as a partner in Afghanistan and in anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia.
• During his visit to Australia last year, President Obama and Prime Minister Gillard announced the landmark rotational deployment of U.S. Marines and a range of initiatives to address regional challenges through joint training and exercises. Secretaries Clinton and Panetta were in Australia just yesterday to work on alliance and regional issues.
• President Obama hosted Philippine President Aquino in Washington this June, and we are working closely together on a range of counter-terrorism and maritime security issues.
The bottom line is that our alliances in the Asia Pacific are as strong as, or stronger than, they have ever been. This is reflected in the breadth and depth of the partnerships I just described. It’s reflected in the strength of President Obama’s personal relationships with his counterparts across the region and the high standing in which the United States is now held. And it’s reflected, as I said, in the demand in the region for sustained American leadership.
In addition to strengthening our alliances, we continue to pursue a second line of effort—forging deeper partnerships with emerging powers. We set about asking ourselves what are the alliances and partnerships we will need in the years to come to achieve our national goals?
As such, we’ve deepened our ties with India. Indian Prime Minister Singh’s visit to Washington in 2009 was the first official state visit of the Obama Administration. Building on President Obama’s trip to India in 2010, and our U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, we see India a strategic partner for the 21st century. As such, we welcome India’s efforts to “Look East” and play a larger role in Asia, including the Indian Ocean. At the same time, we have worked hard to help realize Indonesia’s potential as a global partner—an effort that was advanced by the President’s visit to Jakarta in 2010 and the formal launch of our Comprehensive Partnership.
As a third line of effort, we’ve engaged more deeply in institutions—global and regional—in order to promote regional cooperation, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and adherence to human rights, and international law. At a global level, for example, the President strongly supported making the G-20 the premier forum for international economic cooperation. This, of course, brought more Asia-Pacific nations to the table global economic decision-making, including China, South Korea, India, Australia and Indonesia.
Within the region, we’ve engaged more deeply in ASEAN, and President Obama became the first U.S. President to participate in the East Asia Summit, as he did last year in Bali, and he will participate again in Cambodia next week. This reflects an often overlooked—but critically important—aspect of our strategy: we’re not only rebalancing toward the Asia Pacific, we’re rebalancing within the Asia Pacific, with a renewed focus on Southeast Asia and on ASEAN. As Ernie Bower of CSIS recently observed—and I believe Ernie is traveling today—President “Obama is carving out new patterns for U.S. engagement in Asia.” That includes an Asia policy with “ASEAN at its core.”
Why? The ten ASEAN countries, stretching across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, have a population of over 600 million and combined are the third largest economy in Asia. ASEAN sits astride some of the world’s most important trading routes and sea lines of communication, including the Straits of Malacca. Since its founding, ASEAN has grown from a modest forum for regional cooperation to an institutionalized organization responsible for a broad range of practical cooperation, and the driver for broader regional economic, political, and security integration. At its best, we have witnessed ASEAN play an essential role crafting regional responses to shared challenges and building an effective rules-based order.
The United States strongly supports these efforts, because we believe that an integrated, effective ASEAN is inherently in our interests and in the region’s interests. That is why last year President Obama appointed David Carden as America’s first resident Ambassador to ASEAN, and why next week’s meetings in Cambodia will mark President Obama’s fourth meeting with ASEAN leaders. Our goal is to support and strengthen ASEAN as an institution so that it can more effectively promote regional stability, political and economic progress, and human rights and the rule of law.
The President’s meeting with ASEAN leaders reflects our commitment to deepening relations with these countries, including in the areas of trade and investment and energy. His visit also reflects the President’s support for making the East Asia Summit an effective leaders-level forum for dealing with strategic and security issues. After all, APEC provides an opportunity for leaders from across the region to work on economic and trade matters. And ministers meet at the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Shangri-La dialogue. But there is frankly no venue other than the EAS for the region’s leaders to consult on political issues -- and one is needed. The East Asia Summit can be that forum.
The fourth element of our strategy involves pursuing a stable and constructive relationship with China. There are few diplomatic and economic challenges that can be addressed in the world without having China at the table: from North Korea, to Iran, to Syria, to global economic rebalancing and climate change.
The U.S.-China relationship, of course, has elements of both cooperation and competition. Our consistent policy has been to seek to balance these two elements in a way that increases both the quantity and quality of our cooperation with China as well as our ability to compete. At the same time, we seek to manage disagreements and competition in a healthy – and not disruptive – manner. Doing so also means encouraging Beijing to define its national interests more in terms of common global concerns and to take responsibility for helping the international community address global problems.
Through our high-level consultations with Beijing, such as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, our approach toward China has yielded important results that advance U.S. national security interests. We have elicited significant and sustained Chinese cooperation regarding Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. On the economic front, we coordinated with Beijing to jump start the global economic recovery in 2009 and to build the G20 into the leading global economic institution. U.S.-China military relations have been gaining momentum, including through a very successful visit by Secretary Panetta in September.
In addition, we’ve managed challenges in a way that has remained true to our interests and values. This includes speaking candidly about the importance of upholding universal human rights, while maintaining stability in the broader relationship.
We’ve been clear that as China takes a seat at a growing number of international tables, it needs to assume responsibilities commensurate with its growing global impact and its national capabilities. One of our policy goals is therefore to work with China to strengthen institutions – from the G-20 to APEC to EAS – and enhance the ability of these institutions to address regional and global challenges. Getting the U.S.-China relationship right is a long-term effort, and we will continue to make this a priority in President Obama’s second term and as China’s new leadership takes the reins.
The final element of our strategy involves advancing the region’s economic architecture. As the President has stated, we seek economies that are open and transparent and trade that is free and fair. And we seek an open international economic system, where rules are clear and every nation plays by them. Toward this end, and building on APEC’s leadership on lowering tariffs on environmental goods, we continue to work with our APEC partners toward a seamless regional economy.
Moreover, we’re determined to move ahead with the high-standard Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is widely viewed as the most significant negotiation currently underway in the international trading system. Beyond its original seven members, the TPP has now expanded to include Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico and Canada. Japan and other nations have expressed interest in joining as well.
The TPP will deepen regional economic integration not only by lowering tariffs, but by addressing 21st century trade and investment issues. This includes good regulatory practices, ensuring that state-owned enterprises compete on a level playing field, market-based trade in digital goods and innovation, and addressing challenges faced by small businesses. And I know that the President looks forward to working with his fellow TPP leaders to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion.
All of this is the backdrop for the President’s upcoming trip. Again, I think it’s telling that Asia will be the first trip that President Obama makes since his re-election. It sends a powerful signal that—as it was in his first term—the Asia Pacific will continue to be a strategic priority in President Obama’s second term. In a sense, this trip is a microcosm of the key elements of the President’s approach to the region.
The President begins by visiting Thailand, our oldest friend in the region, with our diplomatic ties dating back to 1833. Building on Secretary Panetta’s visit there today, the President will meet with Prime Minister Yingluck to reinforce our overall bilateral relationship, support the continued peaceful restoration of democratic order after a turbulent period, and deepen our cooperation on security, counter-proliferation, development and the environment.
Next, the President will make an historic visit Burma – a country whose leaders, after decades of repression, have chosen to embark on the path of reform and democratization. The President’s visit at this time reflects his conviction that engagement is the best way to encourage Burmese authorities to further action. In becoming the first U.S. President to visit Burma, the President is endorsing and supporting the reforms underway, giving momentum to reformers and promoting continued progress.
When the President hosted Aung San Suu Kyi in the Oval Office, he told her that the goal of the United States is to engage the government in a way that encourages collaboration with domestic stakeholders and the international community and incentivizes continued reform. As such, the President’s meetings in Burma with government, opposition—including Aung San Suu Kyi—and civil society, will demonstrate that the U.S. can be counted on as a partner when a government makes the right choices.
The President’s meetings—as well as his speech to the people of Burma—will also be an opportunity to reaffirm the progress that still must be made. This includes the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners, an end to ethnic conflicts, steps to establish the rule of law, ending the use of child soldiers, and expanded access for humanitarian assistance providers and human rights observers in conflict areas.
The President will also lay out specific measures to support democratic transformation, assist Burma’s development, and for helping Burma tackle some of the difficult challenges it faces. For example, we’re looking at a framework for U.S. assistance that will focus our programs on priority areas such as building democratic institutions, helping establish the rule of law, promoting human rights, and ensuring all stakeholders are included in the reform process. We are also working with the Burmese government on building national action plans on countering corruption and fostering national reconciliation among ethnic minorities.
One of the key messages the President will bring is that as remarkable as the decision by Burma’s leaders to reform may be, success will depend on the engagement and empowerment of the people of Burma. The United States has long been a supporter of Burma’s civil society and grassroots activists, and we want to make sure that they continue to be empowered, and are taking part in the country’s transformation.
Another key challenge is the plight of the ethnic Rohingya minority. We are deeply concerned about the situation in Rakhine State, where the Rohingya have endured discrimination and violence that has spiked in recent months. We’ve condemned the violence and called for calm and a meaningful dialogue to address the legitimate needs that are at the core of the problem.
The government has taken some constructive steps, including playing a helpful role in restoring calm, allowing humanitarian access to the many of the affected areas, and making a clear pledge to bring instigators of the violence to justice. We expect the Government of Burma to keep its commitments in each of these areas. Our Ambassador, Derek Mitchell, has been working very closely with the government on how to proceed and ensure the safety and welfare of the people of Rakhine State, and I expect the President to address this as well.
Following Burma, at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, the President will address a broad set of issues of concern to the Asia-Pacific Region -- from maritime security and law enforcement to disaster response and humanitarian assistance, development, infectious disease, education, food security, and energy.
Invariably, the leaders will also discuss problems caused by competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. The President, as he did last year in Bali, will reinforce key principles: the need for peaceful resolution of disputes, unimpeded lawful commerce, freedom of navigation, and a rejection of the threat, or use of, force or economic coercion to settle disagreements. In particular, we support ASEAN’s efforts to develop a robust Code of Conduct that will provide a rules-based framework for resolving and preventing disputes. While we have been clear that the United States does not take sides on disputed sovereignty claims – in either the South China Sea or the East China Sea - the President’s message will reinforce that we do have a very strong interest in seeing that these disputes are managed in a manner that supports regional peace, stability, and prosperity.
In this sense, the President’s trip marks the beginning of the next phase in our rebalancing effort, both toward the Asia Pacific and within the Asia Pacific. And that’s where I want to conclude today. I know there have been some observers—in the region and in the United States, perhaps some in this room—who have asked whether our efforts are sustainable over the long term. I’m here today—and the President will reaffirm on his trip—to say that when the President says the United States will play a larger and long-term role in the region, he means it.
This starts at home, because as the President has observed, “at no time in human history has a nation of diminished economic vitality maintained its military and political primacy.” The President therefore remains focused on sustaining our economic recovery and working with Congress to make the difficult but necessary decisions to put our fiscal house in order.
After a decade of war, for example, there will be some reductions in the U.S. defense budget. But guided by our new defense strategy, our defense spending and programs will continue to support our key priorities—including our presence and missions in the Asia Pacific. In Canberra last year the President pledged that reductions in U.S. defense spending will not come at the expense of the Asia Pacific. He has kept that commitment, and he will continue to do so.
In the coming months and years, we are going to continue to allocate our resources to maintain a strong, flexible and broadly distributed regional presence. This includes weighting our naval posture towards the Asia Pacific region – adding both additional presence and capability. In the coming years, we will continue to build up Guam as a strategic hub in the western Pacific; establish fully capable Marine Air-Ground Task Forces in Japan, Guam, Australia, and Hawaii; rotate up to four Littoral Combat Ships out of Singapore to improve our ability to counter a range of transnational threats in the region; and invest in the capabilities appropriate for deterring and defeating aggression and reassuring allies and partners.
By 2020, we will position 60 percent of our naval fleet in the Pacific. And throughout Southeast Asia and Oceania, we will continue to develop maritime security and law enforcement partnerships and a presence that supports unimpeded commerce and freedom of navigation.
As I’ve outlined today, our rebalancing, however, is defined by far more than our defense posture. It will continue to be defined by deeper economic and political engagement. That includes standing up for the freedom and dignity of the people of the region. That means continuing to support democratic transitions, as we have done in the Philippines and Indonesia and now are doing in Burma. It means speaking candidly—in public and in private—about the need to uphold universal human rights.
We’re under no illusions. Our rebalancing toward the Asia Pacific—and within the region—is no short-term effort. It is a long-term undertaking that will continue to demand and receive our focused attention and persistence. And as the President will make clear once again over the coming days, the region will continue to be a foreign policy priority for the Obama Administration in the years to come.
Thank you very much, and, with that, I’d be happy to take a few of your questions.