Gates Spotlights Maritime Security in Hanoi Forum

HANOI, Viet­nam, Oct. 12, 2010 — Dis­agree­ments over ter­ri­to­r­i­al claims and the appro­pri­ate use of the mar­itime domain pose a chal­lenge to sta­bil­i­ty and pros­per­i­ty in South­east Asia, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates told a group of region­al defense min­is­ters meet­ing here today.

Gates is one of eight defense lead­ers from non­mem­ber nations invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate in the first “plus” defense min­is­ters meet­ing of the Asso­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Nations. The 10-mem­ber asso­ci­a­tion includes Viet­nam, Thai­land, Sin­ga­pore, the Philip­pines, Myan­mar, Malaysia, Laos, Indone­sia, Cam­bo­dia and Brunei.

In his remarks at the con­fer­ence, Gates urged a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes that have beset the region, most notably in the South Chi­na Sea.

“The Unit­ed States does not take sides on com­pet­ing ter­ri­to­r­i­al claims, such as those in the South Chi­na Sea,” Gates said. “Com­pet­ing claims should be set­tled peace­ful­ly, with­out force or coer­cion, through col­lab­o­ra­tive diplo­mat­ic process­es, and in keep­ing with cus­tom­ary inter­na­tion­al law.”

The sec­re­tary applaud­ed ini­tial steps by nations with com­pet­ing claims in the South Chi­na Sea to dis­cuss devel­op­ment of a full and bind­ing code of con­duct on the mat­ter, and he said the Unit­ed States stands ready to help in facil­i­tat­ing such ini­tia­tives.

“We have a nation­al inter­est in free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, in unim­ped­ed eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment and com­merce, and in respect for inter­na­tion­al law,” he said. “We also believe that cus­tom­ary inter­na­tion­al law, as reflect­ed in the [Unit­ed Nations] Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea, pro­vides clear guid­ance on the appro­pri­ate use of the mar­itime domain, and rights of access to it. By adher­ing to this guid­ance, we can ensure that all share equal and open access to inter­na­tion­al water­ways.”

Gates not­ed that the Unit­ed States always has exer­cised its rights and sup­port­ed the rights of oth­ers to tran­sit through and oper­ate in inter­na­tion­al waters. “This will not change,” he said, “nor will our com­mit­ment to engage in exer­cis­es and activ­i­ties togeth­er with our allies and part­ners.”

Those activ­i­ties, Gates said, are a rou­tine and crit­i­cal com­po­nent of demon­strat­ing the U.S. com­mit­ment to main­tain peace and sta­bil­i­ty and pro­mote free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in the region.

“They are also essen­tial to build­ing habits of strong secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion,” he said, “which is nec­es­sary as we move for­ward to address com­mon secu­ri­ty chal­lenges togeth­er.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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