The United States is dedicated to ensuring the Indo-Pacific region remains free and open.

In July 21 remarks to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that the U.S. is strengthening long-standing Indo-Pacific partnerships that are based on economic ties and shared values.

“Together, we must uphold the free and open system that has secured peace and prosperity for millions and defend the principles that undergird it,” Esper said.

Those principles include respect for the sovereignty and independence of nations, peaceful resolution of disputes, promotion of free and fair trade, and adherence to international law.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) highlighted the importance of many of these same principles in their statement “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” in June 2019.

Esper called the United States’ partnership with India “one of the all-important defense relationships of the 21st century” and outlined the U.S. military’s efforts to advance partnerships with India and other nations.

A U.S. and a Thai soldier in camouflage uniforms bumping elbows in crowd of other soldiers on field (Courtesy of the Royal Thai Army)
U.S. and Thai soldiers work side by side during Exercise Lightning Forge in Hawaii on July 12. (Courtesy of the Royal Thai Army)

The week of July 20, the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group conducted exercises with the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean. Esper also said the U.S. is supporting Thailand’s military modernization, collaborating with the Philippines on counterterrorism and maritime security, and helping Malaysia and Brunei improve maritime awareness. These are among widespread efforts to support the region, including the first ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise in September 2019.

Strengthened U.S. partnerships in the Indo-Pacific come as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to violate international norms in the South China Sea.

The CCP’s bullying has cost ASEAN countries an estimated $2.6 trillion in potential offshore oil and gas revenue and cut off access to fishing grounds millions rely on, Esper said.

“While the U.S. and our partners focus on supporting one another in these challenging times, the Chinese Communist Party continues to engage in systemic rule-breaking, coercion and other malign activities,” he said.