Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan Speaks on the Outlook of the United States’ Activity in the Indo-Pacific Region

Since 2002 the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue has been a platform for ministers to have bilateral discussions to determine solutions to security challenges in the Indo-Pacific Region. The 18th Asia Security Summit was held in Singapore from May 31st to June 2nd. Influential leaders from around the world came together to address both the current state of the Indo-Pacific region and issues the region faces. Among the speakers were Patrick M. Shanahan, Acting Secretary of Defense of the United States; and General Wei Fenghe, state Councilor and Minister of National Defense, China.

Much like Secretary Mattis’ address last year, Acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick M. Shanahan shared the United States vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region and the necessity for open communication, trust and a commitment to common values. Acting Secretary Shanahan described “the very real progress the Department of Defense is making to usher in a new age of technology, partnerships and posture that presents an unprecedented opportunity for our Indo-Pacific network of allies and partners.” Shanahan went on to state that the United States is three years into this undertaking and that Congress has recently removed budget caps and fully funded the defense strategy. This funding will allow for new and experimental technology that is innovative and more modernized than what is currently in place. The priority of the United States defense strategy is the Indo-Pacific region, which means much of the budget will be spent on this mission.

The goal moving forward should be to build a security network that is based heavily on trust and is both resilient and inclusive, this will support the shared vision of keeping the Indo-Pacific region free and open. In the next five years, the United States has plans to invest a significant amount of resources into programs that are critical to supporting this vision. These programs include areas such as: undersea warfare, C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), missile defense, tactical aircraft, and the domains of cyber and space. Acting Secretary Shanahan went on the discuss the enormous amount of money that has been requested for the fiscal year to conduct research and development of emerging technologies ($104 billion) and operational readiness ($125 billion). This funding allows for the purchasing of 2,000 aircraft, 200 ships and submarines, missile defense systems and the placement of over 370,000 American soldiers in the region.

Yet another similarity to lasts year’s address given by Secretary Mattis was the discussion of China’s movements in the region. Acting Secretary Shanahan spoke very firmly about China’s recent actions and how they seek to undermine the international order and threaten the openness of the region. These behaviors include:

  • Militarizing the area by deploying advanced weapon systems and threatening to use force to make rivals concede
  • Interfering in domestic politics of nations that are not their own
  • Using corrupt deals involving debt sovereignty and predatory economics that benefit one part over another disproportionately
  • Promoting theft of military and civilian technology

The United States wants a future full of promise where all nations are prosperous, and small nations do not fear larger nations, an interconnected security network that is inclusive and promotes trust and economic stability. The actions of China directly contrast this vision, “China can and should have a cooperative relationship with the rest of the region too, but behavior that erodes other nations’ sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions must end”.

General Wei Fenghe, State Councilor and Minister of National Defense of China addressed Secretary Shanahan’s statements in his remarks on June 2nd. He reiterated the importance of communication between China and the United States and the need to develop a strong military to military relationship. In addition, General Wei Fenghe explained that any militarization of the construction in the South China Sea is simply for protection and self-defense, should a threat arise, and furthermore he feels that as a regional country it is their legitimate right to do so. “We have never bullied or preyed on others and we shall not let others bully, prey on or invade us either. China develops its military to cope with security threats.” Furthermore, when addressing the current tensions between the United States and China, General Wei Fenghe had these strong words to say, “As for the recent trade friction started by the US, if the US wants to talk, we will keep the door open. If they want a fight, we will fight to the end. As the general public of China says these days, ‘A talk? Welcome. A fight? We are ready. Bully us? No way.’” This year is the 40th anniversary of the diplomatic tie between China and the United States, and during that time the relationship between the two countries has been growing at a steady rate. General Wei Fenghe went on to say, “The most valuable lesson that we have learned from the four-decade-long relationship is that cooperation benefits the two sides while confrontation hurts both. Looking forward, the two countries should follow the consensus of the two presidents and promote China-US relationship featuring coordination, cooperation and stability.”

For 70 years, the Indo-Pacific region has been free and open. It is the goal of the United States, as well as all nations involved to maintain that status. There will be conflicts and disagreements that arise, and that is okay. The strength of the partnership comes from being able to solve these problems in an inclusive and transparent way that is based on the rules that have been agreed upon. Acting Secretary Shanahan concluded by saying, “We can find solutions if we are truly committed to seeing a task through. It is said that grit is the ability to do something difficult for a prolonged period of time. We have grit. We have been working on this for 70 years.”

Mattis, J. (2018, June). US Leadership and the Challenges of Indo-Pacific Security. International Institute for Strategic Studies (Acting Secretary of Defense, United States). 18th Asia Security Summit, The IISS Shangri-La Dialogue. First plenary session conducted from Singapore.
Fenghe, W. (2019, June). US Leadership and the Challenges of Indo-Pacific Security. International Institute for Strategic Studies (Minister of National Defense, State Councilor, China). 18th Asia Security Summit, The IISS Shangri-La Dialogue. Fourth plenary session conducted from Singapore.