Remarks by Secretary Mattis at Shangri-La Dialogue
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis; John Chipman, IISS Director-General and Chief Executive
JOHN CHIPMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for entering the ballroom, and even more for taking your seats. We have a very full complement of senior leaders collected here this morning, and a very full program, and a number of the ministers are speaking this morning. And most of them also have a tight schedule of bilateral and mini-lateral meetings.
So, I want to start this first opening plenary on time. It will run until approximately 0940. And then we will start the next plenary immediately after the conclusion of this. And only after that will you have your first coffee break. But I'm sure you will find the four presentations this morning sufficiently captivating that you won't need to resort early to caffeine.
Let me open the proceedings this morning by again asking you to take your seats. But also by thanking the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister of Australia, for his excellent set of remarks yesterday, his spirited answers to questions, and his commitment to the defense diplomatic goals of this dialogue.
This morning at 8 a.m. he was kind enough to meet 35 of our young Southeast Asian leaders that we had gathered here in Singapore from all 10 ASEAN states. And as you know, developing the successor generation of strategists is a key element in building the foundations of sound security in this Asia-Pacific region.
The first plenary is about to begin. And out of courtesy for the speaker, let me just remind you of two or three rules of engagement, to borrow a phrase from the military.
The first -- the first rule of engagement is that this plenary is on the record, as are all the plenaries this morning. Which means the foremost statements made from the podium are on the record.
But it's also true that the questions are on the record. So, I hope the questioners will discipline themselves as much as the speakers from the plenary will in light of that reality.
After each of the plenaries, we will have a question-and-answer session. We want that question-and-answer to be brisk, to engage as many people as possible. And I want to repeat what the method is to seek the floor.
Each of you have a badge. You can actually extend the badge. And if you tap the badge on the left-hand side the microphone, it will then ask you whether you're sitting to the left or the right of the microphone.
Press the left button if you're sitting on the left, or the right button after you've tapped if you're sitting on the right. And if you want to seek the floor, press the microphone button. The microphone button will turn green.
But the fact the microphone button is green does not mean your microphone is on. It only means that you're in the queue in my laptop here. When I call on you, I will turn on your microphone. And when you finish speaking, I'll turn it off.
So, you tap with your badge. You press whether you're to the left or the right. And then you press the microphone button.
I hope those three steps, followed in order, are not too difficult. And it will ensure that we have a number of people quickly engaged in the debate.
The opening plenary this morning is on the theme, the United States and Asia-Pacific security. And we have to address this morning.
The U.S. Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, he's a great friend of the IISS and of defense diplomacy. I came to know him first when he was CENTCOM commander. And he paid extraordinary attention in that role to engaging not just with his peers, but with many people throughout the CENTCOM area in order to understand their politics, their culture, their engagement with the outside world.
Yesterday, you might recall, I uttered the IISS axiom, the one that I developed from my own IISS staff, that good strategy is conducted with a cool head and a warm heart. And if there is a current proponent of that maxim, it certainly is James Mattis.
We thank him for his commitment to the Shangri-La Dialogue. He has a full agenda this whole -- this weekend, packed with many important private meetings. We eagerly await his public remarks.
Mr. Secretary, the podium is yours. (Applause.)
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS: Well, good morning. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, excellencies, fellow ministers. And thank you, Dr. John, for having me here, the invitation. And thank you to IISS, which is always a first-rate outfit, and runs conferences actually worth attending.
It is a privilege to be here at this excellent conference in Singapore, and to be in the company of so many senior defense officials from within and outside the region. Shangri-La, I think, provides one of the finest opportunities available anywhere to broaden my perspective. And Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Minister of Defense Ng, thank you for Singapore's unique and generous hospitality.
We always gain keen insights into the strategic currents of this dynamic region, from this outpost on the sea. And I would also tell you that I first visited Singapore, it was in the last Millennium, in 1979. And I've remained an admirer of Singapore's leadership and of the people ever since.
Ladies and gentlemen, my primary reason for being here is to listen. My goal is to walk away with a more vigorous and more rigorous understanding of the challenges we face so that we can jointly craft solutions.
In that regard, I thought Prime Minister Turnbull last night brought clarity, sir, to the situation facing our nations, setting the stage for our conversation today. And I must add, you gave us reason for optimism in the face of some rather daunting challenges. And I think a dose of good Australian pragmatic optimism is always in order. So, thank you, sir.
Five United States states, including my home state of Washington, have Pacific Ocean shorelines. The United States is a Pacific nation, both in geography and outlook. And from my first trips as secretary of Defense, and from Vice President Pence's first trips, Secretary of State Tillerson's trips, the American administration is demonstrating the priority that we place on relationships in the Asia-Pacific region, a priority region for us.
Specifically, in Vice President Pence 's words, during his trip to South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Australia, we have affirmed the United States what he called our enduring commitment to the security and prosperity of this region.
That enduring commitment is based on strategic interests, and on shared values of free people, free markets and a strong and vibrant economic partnership, a partnership open to all nations, regardless of their size, their populations or the number of ships in their navies, or any other qualifier. Large nations, as the prime minister reminded us last night, large nations, small nations and even shrimps can all thrive in a rules-based order.
Such an order benefits all nations. America's engagement is also based on strong military partnerships, robust investment and trade relationships, and close ties between the peoples of our countries. Ultimately, we all share this mighty Pacific Ocean, an ocean named for peace.
We are proud so many young people from Pacific nations choose to come to American universities to study. And we appreciate that many of our students attend universities in your countries because they return home enriched by your cultures.
These people-to-people ties highlight the depth and the breadth of America's relationship with Asia-Pacific nations, and the importance that the U.S. has in terms of its role in the region.
This morning, I want to focus on two broad subject areas, and hopefully make this time worthwhile for you, and open to a number of questions afterwards. The first area is America's view of the region's key security challenges. The second is the approach we are taking, alongside Asia-Pacific allies and partners, to address those challenges.
I note up front that in the security arena we have a deep and abiding commitment to reinforcing the rules-based international order. This order, as we all know, is a product. It's a true product of so many nations' efforts to create stability. And these efforts, we must remind ourselves so we don't take them for granted, these efforts grew out of lessons learned the hard way from an economic depression and catastrophic wars.
The international order was not imposed on other nations. Rather, the order is based on principles that were embraced by nations trying to create a better world and restore hope to all.
Those principles have stood the test of time, like equal respect for the international law, regardless of a nation's size or wealth, and freedom of navigation and overflight, including keeping shipping lanes open for all nations' commercial benefit. These principles underwrite stability and build trust, security and prosperity.
The growing prosperity of the people in this region gives proof to the value of institutions, such as the United Nations, ASEAN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, all of which can spur economic growth. They also remind us that each of us have a vested interest in each other's security.
The United States will continue to adapt and continue to expand its ability to work with others to secure a peaceful, prosperous and free Asia, one with respect for all nations upholding international law. Because we recognize no nation is an island isolated from the others, we stand with our allies and the international community to address pressing security challenges, and do so together.
As countries make sovereign decisions that are free from coercion, the region will gain increased stability and security for the mutual benefit of all nations. In our cooperative pursuit of that vision, we cannot ignore the challenges that you and I know we face.
As Vice President Pence stated, the most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific is North Korea. North Korea's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them is not new. But the regime has increased the pace and the scope of its efforts.
While the North Korean regime has a long record of murder of diplomats, of kidnapping innocents, of killing of sailors, other criminal activity, its nuclear weapons program is maturing is a threat to all. Coupled with reckless proclamations, the current North Korean program signals a clear intent to acquire nuclear arm ballistic missiles, including those of intercontinental range that pose direct and immediate threats to our regional allies, our partners and all the world.
President Trump has made clear that the era of strategic patience is over. As a matter of U.S. national security, the United States regards the threat from North Korea as a clear and present danger.
The regime's actions are manifestly illegal under international law. There is a strong international consensus that the current situation cannot continue. China's declared policy of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula is our policy as well, and also that of Japan and the Republic of Korea. All nations represented in this room share an interest in restoring stability.
The Trump administration is encouraged by China's renewed commitment to work with the international community toward denuclearization. Ultimately, we believe China will come to recognize North Korea as a strategic liability, not an asset. A liability inciting increased disharmony and causing peace-loving populations in the region to increase defense spending.
As China's President Xi said in April, "Only if all sides live up to their responsibilities and come together from different directions can the nuclear issues on the peninsula be resolved as quickly as possible." I agree with the president's words on this point, and those words must be followed by actions by all of us.
North Korea poses a threat to us all, and it's therefore imperative that we do our part, each of us, to fulfill our obligations and work together to support our shared goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We are coordinating with the United Nations, with our allies and partners to put new pressures on North Korea to abandon the dangerous path.
I reiterate Sec. Tillerson's statement at the United Nations this last April. He said, "Our goal is not regime change, and we do not want to destabilize the Asia-Pacific region. We will, however, continue to increase diplomatic and economic pressure until Pyongyang," and I quote, "finally and permanently abandon its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs."
Specifically, the United States will maintain our close coordination and cooperation with the Republic of Korea and Japan, two democracies whose people want peace. Our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan to include the employment of our most advanced capabilities is ironclad.
Moreover, we will take further steps to protect the U.S. homeland, as demonstrated by this week's successful ballistic missile defense test. While North Korea is an urgent military threat, we must not lose sight of other strategic challenges to regional peace and prosperity.
And here I want to talk for a minute about China and the United States. Because of its growing economic power, China occupies a legitimate position of influence in the Pacific.
We welcome China's economic development. However, we can also anticipate economic and political friction between the United States and China. Yet, we cannot accept Chinese actions that impinge on the interests of the international community, undermining the rules-based order that has benefitted all countries represented here today, including and especially China.
While competition between the U.S. and China, the world's two largest economies, is bound to occur, conflict is not inevitable. Our two countries can and do cooperate for mutual benefit. And we will pledge to work closely with China where we share common cause.
We seek instructive, results-oriented relationship with China. We believe the United States can engage China diplomatically and economically to ensure our relationship is beneficial, not only to the United States and China, but also to the region and to the world.
All countries should have a voice in shaping the international system. But doing so by ignoring or violating international law threatens all that this inclusive global community has built together during the last 70 years, an international system that grew out of the grim lessons of World War II, and the immense suffering of tens of millions of people.
For example, the United States remains committed to protecting the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea, and the ability of countries to exercise those rights in the strategically important East and South China Seas.
The 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the case brought by the Philippines on the South China Sea is binding. We call on all claimants to use this as a starting point to peacefully manage their disputes in the South China Sea. Artificial island construction and indisputable militarization of facilities on features in international waters undermine regional stability.
The scope and effect of China's construction activities in the South China Sea differ from those in other countries in several key ways. This includes the nature of its militarization, China's disregard for international law, its contempt for other nations' interests, and its efforts to dismiss non-adversarial resolution of issues.
We oppose countries militarizing artificial islands and enforcing excessive maritime claims unsupported by international law. We cannot and will not accept unilateral coercive changes to the status quo.
We will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and demonstrate resolve through operational presence in the South China Sea and beyond. Our operations throughout the region are an expression of our willingness to defend both our interests and the freedoms enshrined in international law.
As Prime Minister Modi of India has stated so clearly, "respecting freedom of navigation and endearing to international norms are essential for peace and economic growth in the interlinked geography of the Indo-Pacific." China's growth over these last decades illustrates that the Chinese people have benefitted enormously from these very freedoms. Where we have overlapping interests, again I say, we seek to cooperate with China as much as possible.
And where we disagree, we will seek to manage competition responsibly because we recognize how important U.S.-China relations are for the stability of Asia-Pacific. And we believe at this time that China also recognizes this.
We will also continue to work together with our longtime, steadfast allies to maximize regional security. We will ensure we have the military means to keep the peace. But we will not use our allies and partners or our relationships with them, or the capability integral to their security as bargaining chips.
In addition to the challenges presented by North Korea and China, there is another situation that we must all work together to address for the good of our nations, and to ensure a healthy future for our peoples. Violent extremist organizations, as noted by the prime minister last night, including fighters returning from the Middle East and local individuals radicalized by malicious ideologies, seek to gain ground in Southeast Asia.
Just last week, ISIS-linked militants in the Philippines attempted to seize part of Marawi City in Mindanao, attacking innocents, killing police and military, and taking worshippers hostage. ISIS also claimed responsibility for the brutal bombings that killed three police officers at Jakarta bus station.
Now I'll just say right now, ladies and gentlemen, that we Americans, we stand in sympathy and support of those whose lives have been brutalized by such criminals. Together we must act now to prevent this threat from growing. Otherwise, it will place long-term regional security at risk and stunt regional economic dynamism. We need only to look at the chaos and violence that our friends in the Mid East are contending with to see why we must swiftly and jointly address threats to our region.
As President Trump emphasized during his first foreign trip in the Middle East, we must defeat extremist organizations wherever they attempt to establish roots. Not just in Iraq and Syria, but also here in Southeast Asia.
As such, the U.S. remains committed to leading the Defeat ISIS Coalition effort, an international team of 66 nations plus the Arab League, NATO, Interpol and the European Union, all fully committed at the political, military and law enforcement levels to the destruction of ISIS. This heartbreaking attack we are observing right now on a city in Mindanao reminds us that terrorists intentionally make battlefields where the innocent live.
These are also humanitarian fields, as we know, and we must all devote ourselves to ensuring a stable environment in which violent extremist organizations wither and die, not our innocent citizens. And I know I speak for all of us in this room today, that we stand with the Philippines and the fight they're currently engaged in.
For our counterterrorism efforts to be successful, however, we must unify our efforts, strengthen by moral clarity, political will and an implacable commitment to fully share the difficult and dangerous work that this will require. In this effort, we are partnering with a number of countries in the region, including Malaysia and Indonesia, for example, to improve information sharing and maritime domain awareness so regional leaders can deliver pragmatic protection for their people.
Information sharing is vital if we are to maintain law and order against a foe that intentionally targets women, children and the innocent in our countries. I am confident in our collective ability to make this vibrant and diverse region safer, without sacrificing either its prosperity or its values.
In light of these challenges, let me describe three ways in which the Department of Defense, which I lead, is pursuing our common objective of regional stability. Our primary effort remains strengthening alliances. This protects and promotes the principles we share with our steadfast allies. History is compelling on this point.
Nations with strong allies that respect one another thrive. And those without allies stagnate and wither. Alliances provide avenues for peace, fostering the conditions for economic growth with countries that share the same vision, while tempering the plans of those who would attack other nations or try to impose their will over the less powerful.
I can note just several examples. I don't want to talk too long, but let me just make note of the United States and Japan implementing the 2015 Defense Guidelines to enhance regional security across the wider spectrum of operations, cooperating ever more closely in the Asia-Pacific.
Japan is also contributing to the relocation of some of our U.S. forces to Guam, which is a significant strategic hub for our regional operations.
We are working transparently in unison with the Republic of Korea to defend against the growing threats posed by North Korea's aggressive and destabilizing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
For the last 100 years, U.S. and Australian forces, Mr. Prime Minister, have shared the battlefield in every major conflict. President Trump and Prime Minister Turnbull recently commemorated a key part of our shared history when our allied efforts in the Battle of Coral Sea took place. Our alliance remains relevant to the regional stability in the 21st century as well.
And our combined interoperability with allied forces, enhanced through forced posture initiatives that we're taking, ensures we are prepared to cooperate during real-world crises. Deterrence of war, however, remains our ultimate goal.
We are helping to train, advise and assist the Philippine force in their fight against violent extremist organizations in the south. And I think we all owe that support to the Philippine government.
We also continue to support the modernization of the Philippine Armed Forces to address the country's security challenges. During this challenging fight against terrorists, we will stand by the people of the Philippines, and we will continue to uphold our commitments to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty.
Our oldest ally in the region, Thailand, has been and will remain instrumental in challenging the wide range of regional threats. Thailand's announced its intent to hold elections. We look forward to our longtime friend's return to democratic governance, and the expansion of our military-to-military relationship, grounded in our everlasting confidence in the Thai people.
In addition to our bilateral alliance relationships, we are encouraging an interconnected region. These linkages are expanding, including, but also independent of the United States. And that is a development that we welcome.
Besides strengthening our alliances, our second Department of Defense priority is to empower countries in the region so they can be even stronger contributors to their own peace and stability. The Pacific region countries represented here are obviously critical to strengthening and transforming the underlying security structure that has enabled tremendous regional prosperity. For we don't take that peace or prosperity for granted.
We call upon all countries to contribute sufficiently to their own security. At the same time, we encourage them to actively seek out opportunities and partnerships with other like-minded nations as we do the same to sustain and maintain the peace. We will continue to engage closely with our partners, building on recent progress.
We are exploring new ways to address new challenges as well, from maritime security to the growing threat posed by the spread of terrorism in Southeast Asia. For example, we recognize India, the most populous democracy in the world, as a major defense partner. We did so in part out of respect for India's indispensable role in maintaining stability in the Indian Ocean region.
We are also conducting the first ever transfer of a Coast Guard cutter to Vietnam. And we just completed the inaugural U.S.-Singapore air detachment in Guam, which will give an opportunity to the Singapore Republic to build interoperability between our forces.
The Department of Defense remains steadfastly committed to working with Taiwan and with its democratic government to provide in the defense articles necessary, consistent with the obligations set out in our Taiwan Relations Act. Because we stand for the peaceful resolution of any issues in a manner acceptable to people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
But we also know that a stable region requires us all to work together. And that is why we support greater engagement with ASEAN because no single bilateral relationship can get us where we want to go. Only working in concert can take us forward.
This year marks, ladies and gentlemen, the 50th anniversary of the birth of ASEAN and the 40th anniversary of relations between ASEAN and the United States. In America, we are proud of our four decades of working together, and we believe that our best days are ahead.
The future of ASEAN is bright, and that is good for all Pacific nations. And here I note Indonesian President Widodo's statement at the 2016 East Asia Summit when he said ASEAN -- he said, "ASEAN must protect our home and ensure sustainable peace and stability. Hence, we need a strong and comprehensive regional security architecture that could advance ASEAN's centrality and more effectively contribute to security and regional stability."
Finally, our third effort at the U.S. Department of Defense is to strengthen U.S. military capabilities in the region because security is the foundation of prosperity, enabling the flow of commerce. The United States seeks to integrate diplomatic, economic and military approaches to regional concerns, enabling Secretary Tillerson and our diplomats to address tough issues from a position of strength. It is the role of the military to set the conditions for diplomacy to succeed.
The United States has consistently endeavored to use its Armed Forces to support stability in the Asia-Pacific and to reinforce our diplomatic efforts. In our Congress, Sen. McCain, Congressman Thornberry and other American legislators have identified a need to strengthen U.S. operational capability in this region. And I look forward to working with them to develop an Asia-Pacific stability initiative that complements the ongoing large-scale investment in our budget to improve and reinforce the U.S. military's capabilities across the region.
And to give you snapshot, ladies and gentlemen, currently 60 percent of all U.S. Navy ships, 55 percent of Army forces, about two-thirds of the fleet Marine forces are assigned to the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility. Soon, 60 percent of our overseas tactical aviation assets will also be assigned to this theater.
The congressional initiative that is being brought forward will expand investment in the Department of Defense, strengthening the rules-based order by better positioning us to support regional stability in a changing region.
By further strengthening our alliances, by empowering the region, and by enhancing the U.S. military in support of our larger foreign policy goals, we intend to continue to promote the rules-based order that is in the best interest of the United States, and of all the countries in the region.
And I would just say to our hosts here today, this unique forum is only possible because of our unique hosts. Singapore is a beacon to this region and to the world. Its openness, its mutual respect that it engenders, and the prosperity of this city-state allows us all to be here to discuss our differences in a positive environment. And for that I am grateful.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. And I look forward to your questions. (Applause.)
MR. CHIPMAN: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for that wide-ranging speech. And you've inspired already about nine people to take the floor.
Let me remind all of you of the way in which to seek the floor. Tap your badge on the left-hand side of the microphone set. Press the button if you're sitting out there on the left or on the right. And then press the silver button underneath that if you want to join the queue. Otherwise, you won't be on it.
But the -- I'll take three or four questions in a group, if I may. The first, from the Lowy Institute in Australia, Michael Fullilove. Your microphone is on.
Q: Secretary Mattis, first of all, let me commend you, if I may, for taking on your current post with all its stresses and strains. For many of us, sir, you are the hope of the side.
General, your speech focus on the rules-based regional order, which has been a preoccupation of this conference for many years. And I'd associate myself with your strong remarks. All of us here in Asia have the right to make our own way without coercion.
And I'd like to thank you too for your comment on alliances. But I'd like to ask you about the rules-based global order, which you mentioned at the outset of your remarks, and in which President Trump appears to be an unbeliever.
Seventy years ago, Secretary Acheson wrote that he was present at the creation of a U.S.-led order that has served all of us well. General, given everything over the past four months, including NATO and TPP and Paris, why should we not fret that we are present at the destruction of that order? Please give us cause for optimism, general.
MR. CHIPMAN: I'll take three more questions before I come back to the secretary. The next from Japan, Taro Kono.
Q: Thank you.
I'm Taro Kono, member of the Japanese parliament. I have explained to my constituency that U.S.-Japan alliance is not just about the security. Its alliance is shared to promote the common values such as democracy, human rights, freedom of press, free trade, environmental protection and so forth.
Today, more and more people are asking if this alliance is just about security, not about the common values. Mr. Secretary, what do you think? If it's alliance based on the common values, what are the common values we are trying to promote today?
MR. CHIPMAN: Two more questions before I go back to the secretary. From China, Qiyu Tu.
Q: OK. Thank you.
General, I think I noticed that as you mentioned, strengthening the defense base between United States and Taiwan. And I think that is quite unusual for the secretary of Defense of the United States to say so in this occasion. And does it mean that there's some change with regard to the One China policy of the United States?
MR. CHIPMAN: And the final question in this round, Lynn Kuok from Singapore, one of our young leaders.
Q: Thank you very much for permitting me this question. I had actually two quick questions. My first one was -- it relates to the statement made by your former NSC Senior Director for Asian Affairs, Dan Kritenbrink on the day of the tribunal's ruling in the Philippines case against China.
Now, he said that the United States has made clear that we have tough national security interests in the -- sorry, top national interests in the South China Sea, just as China does and just as many of the countries in the region do. And that the United States will not turn a blind eye in exchange for cooperation elsewhere.
Can we expect the same approach from the U.S. -- the current U.S. administration? In other words, can we expect that -- not to sacrifice the South China Sea, in a sense, for cooperation, say, on North Korea?
Now, my second question will be about your statement that the United States will not be accepting unilateral changes to the status quo. And in this respect, I presume you mean the island building and construction activities, as well as militarization of features in the South China Sea.
May I please know what the United States -- how the United States intends to approach this question? What are the specific acts that it intends to do to prevent this unilateral change in status quo?
SEC. MATTIS: Well, you can always count on some straightforward questions here, can't you? (Laughter.)
As far as the rules-based order, you know, obviously we have a new president in Washington, D.C. We're all aware of that. And there is going to be fresh approaches taken.
But just the fact that -- just take a look at the president's first trip to the -- outside the United States was straight into the heart of one of the most bewildering and difficult challenges that the world faces in terms of how do we restore stability and peace, right. Into the Middle East where the discussion was about how do we work together, in this case with the Arab League and with other international organizations, in order to reduce the threat of terrorism.
So, I think that we have been engaged in the world for a long time. I think historically the Americans have been reluctant to see themselves in that role. It -- we were quite happy between our two oceans to stay there.
The 20th century took us out of that. But at the same time, we recognized, especially the greatest generation we call them, coming home from World War II. What a crummy world if we all retreat inside our own borders. How many people deprived of good lives during the Depression. How many tens of millions of people killed in World War II.
Like it or not, we're part of the world. That carries through for all the frustrations that are felt in America right now, for the sense that at times we have carried inordinate burden. That is still very deeply rooted in the American psyche, that engagement with the world.
And I think, to quote a British observer of us from some years ago, "Bear with us. Once we've exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing."
So, we will still be there. And we will be there with you.
The fact that President Trump went to Brussels, he speaks with word of actions too. He was there to show our statement that we are standing with the NATO allies 100 percent.
He sent me on my first trip after I was nominated to Tokyo and Seoul in order to make certain it was no misunderstanding, within weeks of him taking office that we stood with the democracies of Japan and Korea. So, we are there. And I can give you absolute optimism on this issue.
It's -- I would just say about China, as we talked about, you know, whether or not there's any adjustment to One China. No, there is not. The policy remains. We believe in the peaceful resolution of the situation between China and Taiwan. And that's where we've stood for some years. And the One China policy holds.
I would also say that in regards to China and whether or not the North Korea issues outweighs the South China Sea, this sort of thing, there's a lot more between the United States than just two issues. There are many areas, as I noted, of common interest, and certainly on terrorism, on nuclear proliferation.
There are any number of issues where we have common ground with China. And to put it into a binary option of either we have to, you know, walk away from our values and what we stand for on freedom of navigation and all because we need to work with China on North Korea. We're working with China on North Korea, ladies and gentlemen, because that is also a problem with North Korea -- or excuse me, with China -- for China.
I do not choose to send THAAD to South Korea to protect the South Korean people from an imaginary problem. This is a real problem. And the problem is not South Korea putting a fully defensive system for the defense of their own people into position. The problem is North Korea.
And if we want to stop the -- bringing more military capability into the Northwest Pacific, then we have to address the problem that is a threat to Japan, to South Korea and all the other nations.
So, we have many areas that we can work with Korea. But at the same time -- excuse me, with China. But at the same time, Korea, North Korea is a problem. It's got to be addressed. And we can do so. We believe that right now China is working this issue.
But I hope that addresses each of the four questions there, John.
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you very much.
And I'll take a quick round. Please keep your questions crisp.
From India, Pramendra Kumar Singh.
Q: Secretary, I'm General P.K. Singh from India.
We have been hearing of, not just at this session but earlier we heard, as we talk about rules-based laws being followed. But I don't think China is going to pull back its militarization from those islands. Neither is North Korea going to denuclearize.
So, are we going to lay down a timeline? Or are we going to keep repeating this over the years for the next decade or more?
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you. I'll take three more.
Richard Lloyd Parry from the U.K.
Q: Thank you, (inaudible). Richard Lloyd Parry of The Times.
Mr. Mattis, you made it clear that the U.S. doesn't seek regime change in North Korea. So, the very simple yes-no question is this. Does the North Korean government of Kim Jung-un have a right to exist?
MR. CHIPMAN: From Singapore, Kishore Mahbubani.
Q: Thank you, Sec. Mattis, for your speech. You said that U.S.-China competition will rise. It'll probably rise more acutely in the economic arena.
China has launched a Belt and Road Initiative. United States has withdrawn from TPP. Is there any possibility at all of the United States reconsidering its decision to withdraw from TPP? Because that will be a powerful signal to this region.
MR. CHIPMAN: And from Russia, Ekaterina Kordinova. Go ahead.
Q: Here? Thank you.
Secretary Mattis, you mentioned rules-based order several times. My understanding is that it can ensure it only for the institutions. But at the same time, we have heard multiple questions about growing unilateralism in the U.S. foreign policy. I will not repeat them.
My question is, what will be the role and function of the original security institutions if this tendency really exists and will go on? And how could we ensure the access neutrality, for example, in these settings?
MR. CHIPMAN: And the final question from Australia, Christopher Roberts.
Q: Thank you. I'm from UNSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
Some might argue that China has already largely achieved its goals in the South China Sea. Given my own discussions in Manila and beyond. U.S. relations with President Duterte and President Duterte's stand over the South China Sea, might be improved as the U.S. provides continuous security presence around features such as the Scarborough Shoal.
Perhaps even by a coalition of coast guards, including Australia, and their unconditional guarantee to protect the legally declared EEZ of the Philippines.
Can the U.S. take such steps, in addition to what you have already indicated, to put an immediate halt to the expansion of China's presence within the EEZ or the Philippines? And could something similar be done in the case of Vietnam and perhaps Malaysia?
SEC. MATTIS: Yes. There's a little bit of an echo up here, so we're working together to make sure I've got the right questions, ladies and gentlemen.
On the rules-based order, we have enduring interests. And I think that when you look at those enduring interests, you find the enduring motivations to reinforce and hold fast with the -- with the rules-based approach.
I don't think that this is something new. I think it is as old as history. And the fight between those who want a rules-based order and those who try through coercion to find ways around it, frankly. And it's simply something we have to work together on.
I think that one point I would make is that we have got plenty of valid reasons for many nations to work together in maintaining the rules based order today. These are valid because we can quantitatively show the value in commerce and in security where we work together.
As far as on the ASEAN centrality, I think that we need organizations that allow people to come together to discuss common problems. And I think that ASEAN provides that forum. Where ASEAN goes, these are sovereign nations. They have to work together. And we respect that.
We're happy to be linked to ASEAN. And our status that we maintain, the relationship we maintain and support it. But in the economic arena especially, I think ASEAN will play a role as we look at how do we have not just free trade, but we have fair trade among all the nations involved there.
And I think on how do we -- let me jump over here to South China Sea. Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to have to work together on this. I don't think there's room right now to get into pushing adversarial approaches. What we have to do is take into account, number one, what each nation's interests are there in the South China Sea. And we have to have mediation capability in order to ensure that small nations, large nations, all nations can work them out to mutual satisfaction because that's the only way we will have an enduring solution. One size doesn't fit all in the sense of one nation imposing its will there.
Did I miss any of them there?
MR. CHIPMAN: What about (off mic)?
SEC. MATTIS: Yes. And on the TPP situation, ladies and gentlemen, it's going to be a fresh approach. Obviously, there were many disappointed about the TPP decision. But at the same time, it only directs us to bilateral approaches and other multilateral approaches that we will engage in. I have no doubt that we will stay engaged on those.
It means one avenue did not meet our nation's -- population's desires. But it doesn't mean we're turning our back on relations that we would work out on a bilateral basis as a result.
MR. CHIPMAN: We can take one maybe two questions if they're very brief. So, General Yao from China? But brief.
Q: Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Chipman.
Just one specific question. Because we are talking about rules-based international order, regional order, I'm curious to know what international rules are the freedom of navigation operations based by the United States?
What kind of rules should be applied here? Because to my understanding that about 50 countries in the world have made national laws asking for prior notification of consent while foreign military ships enters their territory waters.
The U.S. has been conducting freedom of navigation operations to challenge this kind of excessive maritime rules since 1979. And United States has not given (inaudible) to the law of the -- Convention on Law of the Seas.
So, what should we take as rules in relating to this kind of military operations, the so-called freedom of navigation operations? Because this -- for the last three years, the U.S. Navy has been challenging China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, also including Japan, India, by conducting freedom of navigation. It's not only against China.
I'm just curious to know what are the rules?
MR. CHIPMAN: No. Yes, thank you very much. I'll take one more. Huey Yuku Akita from Japan.
Q: Thank you very much. My question is about North Korea.
You said that if there is a war in North Korea, there's going to be a -- it's going to be tragic on an unbelievable scale. So, my question is, do you think that the hubris will act if necessary, preemptively, militarily, without giving warning to the foreigners living in South Korea?
There -- it is said that there's going to be 700,000 foreigners, including American citizens, living in Korean Peninsula. So, I wonder if option could be to act preemptively without pre-warning if necessary to those people to evacuate.
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you very much. I'll have the secretary answer those two questions. And then we'll close the section. Mr. Secretary?
SEC. MATTIS: Right. We have the Law of the Sea. I recognize your question, general. But the Law of the Sea is not the only law that we go by in the sea, that one act.
I would just tell you that there's a tradition in the sea -- there's traditional areas of the sea that have been used as international waters since time began. And we believe that those kinds of standards should be maintained. They should not be unilaterally changed, no matter what one nation's interests are. We have to work together if we're going to have the freedom of commerce that all nations can benefit from.
As far as about having any warning or how we address North Korea, right now we are doing our best through the United Nations, through engaging with Beijing's -- offices. We're working with international community, obviously working with the Republic of South Korea, Japan.
We are working diplomatically, economically. We are trying to exhaust all possible alternatives to avert this race for a nuclear weapon in violation -- to go back to an earlier question -- in violation of the United Nations' restrictions on North Korea's activities.
We've also seen North Korea engaged in proliferation activities, which means those nuclear capabilities are not solely being retained by North Korea in their own defense. They are actually exporting some of that capability, some of that knowledge.
And so, to us, we want to stop this. We consider it urgent. But at the same time, we are working right now diplomatically and economically. And we obviously work very, very closely with the United Nations Command.
This is not just an American command here, a United Nations Command, and the Sending nations -- Sending nations being those that sent troops under the U.N. Security Council resolution in 1950. Because that war was never ended, those nations are still committed to maintaining the peace on the peninsula.
And so, we work, obviously with them as well, in terms of the military options. But right now, we're doing our very best to exhaust all economic and diplomatic initiatives to get this under control.
MR. CHIPMAN: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for a splendid speech, and for the strength, clarity, precision and forward-looking character of your answers to the many questions here.
Please, all of you, would you do two things? First, stay in your seats because in a moment the French, the Japanese and the Australian defense ministers will take the stage for their plenary. And the second thing to do, please thank the secretary for his opening plenary remarks. (Applause.)