WASHINGTON, May 31, 2011 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will participate in the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore this week, where officials expect he will outline continued U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific region.
This is the secretary’s fifth and final trip to the Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asia security summit sponsored by the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
“Obviously, he sees this as a valuable forum to meet with his counterparts, but also to hear from the region and meet with and discuss regional issues,” said a senior defense official, speaking on background.
The secretary will hold bilateral talks with a number of defense ministers, including Stephen Francis Smith of Australia, Gen. Liang Guanglie of China and Toshima Kitazawa of Japan. He also will meet with Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamed Najib bin Abdul Razak and Singapore’s defense minister, Theo Chee Han.
A Gates speech on the conference agenda will be his last as defense secretary in Asia, and he will talk about what he has seen, what has changed, and what he has seen that remains consistent, the official said. The secretary retires June 30 after more than four and a half years in office.
“He’s going to talk in greater detail than he has in the past about what we in [the Defense Department] are doing to make that more tangible,” the official said, “specifically, in [terms of] U.S. presence in the region and our own commitment, and the operations and capabilities we bring to the region.”
The theme will be that the United States is not distracted by on-going issues and immediate-term crises, the official said. “Asia tends to be a place where there are important, but not always the urgent, priorities,” he explained, “and clearly, the secretary wants to point out that we care and are focused on the important issues as well.”
This is the first time the Chinese have sent a defense minister to Shangri-La, and U.S. officials are pleased with the decision.
“I know Secretary Gates very much looks forward to having a conversation with General Liang about how we continue to build on the positive momentum that exists in the military-to-military relationship,” another senior defense official said. Gates will continue to discuss with the Chinese why it is important to have a healthy, stable, reliable and continuous military-to-military relationship, he added.
The secretary also wants to talk about following up on the Strategic Security Dialogue the two initiated during Gates’ visit to Beijing in January. It is a joint civilian and military dialogue to address a number of sensitive security issues, including nuclear and missile defense, space, and cyber.
All this together is an opportunity to show the consistency of U.S. policy and reassure the Asian allies that even though Gates is retiring, “there will be continuity in defense policy with the next secretary,” the official said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)