Top US defence official reaffirms commitment to South-east Asia in meeting with Asean ministers

Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen, other South-east Asian defence ministers and their representatives meeting US Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue on May 31, 2019. PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - The United States' commitment to South-east Asia remains strong, US Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in his first meeting with Asean counterparts.

The informal gathering, held on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue which kicks off on Friday evening (May 31), was facilitated by Singapore, the Ministry of Defence said in a media statement.

Mr Shanahan spoke about Washington's role and strategy in maintaining an open and inclusive regional security architecture, reaffirming the US' strong commitment to the region.

He also said the US will stay engaged in the Asia-Pacific and maintain its strong role in the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus, according to the ministry.

Mr Shanahan's remarks come amid a perception that the US may become too preoccupied with heightening tensions in the Middle East to pay due attention to the region, where China's increasing assertiveness has caused some concern.

Addressing this aspect en route to Singapore, Mr Shanahan had told the media on Wednesday that the US had the "capacity to spin a lot of plates".

On Saturday (June 1), Mr Shanahan will fill in some details of Pentagon's policy in a speech on the US' Indo-Pacific strategy, the term it uses to describe the Asia-Pacific.

In their meeting with Mr Shanahan on Friday, the Asean defence ministers welcomed the US commitment to the region, the ministry said.

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen expressed his strong support for deepening Asean's cooperation with the US, and stressed Washington's key role in addressing the region's security challenges.

Speaking about the threat posed by terrorists, Dr Ng expressed hope that the US will continue to support regional counter-terrorism efforts.

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