For Asean, US is natural choice, says top defence official

Workers adorn a large poster welcoming Asean leaders to the 34th Asean Summit in Bangkok, Thailand.
Workers adorn a large poster welcoming Asean leaders to the 34th Asean Summit in Bangkok, Thailand.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON - For the Asean region, choosing the United States over China as a partner is the logical choice, Randall Schriver, Assistant Director of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs told an audience in Washington on Wednesday (June 19).

The US's vision of the free and open Indo-Pacific was founded on enduring principles, widely shared if not universally held, he said in a keynote address at the 35th anniversary gala dinner of the US-Asean Business Council.

Referring to the Asean region, he said: "Sometimes we're told we don't want to choose… between China and the United States, (to be) put in that uncomfortable position."

But can the region choose respect for sovereignty and independence of all nations large and small, he asked rhetorically.

"Can you choose peaceful resolution of disputes?" he said. "Can you choose free, fair, reciprocal trade and investment, which includes protections for intellectual property. Can you choose to support adherence to international rules and norms including freedom of navigation and overflight.

"If you can choose those things - and… we see those not as the United States' positions, principles or values, but more universal - you can set aside choosing between the United States and China because you'll be with us I think in promoting that vision."

The US military is investing in future capabilities to make sure it maintains its advantage, he said.

Mr Schriver stressed partnerships in Asean, saying: "We think we do share common values with Asean, and we see a lot of alignment in promoting those values."

And he stressed that the Indo-Pacific is the priority theatre for the US government.

"The Indo-Pacific strategy is also an open invitation for our partner countries to contribute, there are practical ways… to uphold the rules-based international order," he said.

"The United States will remain fully engaged in the Indo-Pacific to ensure that a rules-based international order, not coercion or force, dictates the future of the Indo-Pacific."