ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT — Despite all of its problems and controversies, the nations of the world want better relations with the United States, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a news conference en route to Singapore, where he will attend his fifth and final Shangri-La Dialogue.
The secretary will meet with leaders of many Asian nations – including China – during the annual conference.
Gates, who is retiring at the end of the month, said he remembers being struck when he first took office that “despite all the controversies in recent years … there has been very broad interest on the part of many countries to strengthen the relationship with the United States and have a stronger partnership with the United States.”
“I don’t think this is true anywhere more than in Asia,” he added.
The United States military has made extraordinary progress strengthening the military-to-military relationships with Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as traditional allies in Australia, Thailand Japan and South Korea, Gates noted.
Though the China‑U.S. military-to-military relationship has been through a rough patch, he acknowledged, his visit to Beijing in January and a reciprocal visit by Chinese leaders to America last month indicate it’s on track.
The relationship with China is going well, Gates said, but it needs more time to grow.
“We need more of what’s always in short supply when it comes to the United States and its government – and that is patience,” he said. “Relationships take time to develop, and we get very impatient because our timelines are always short.”
The secretary said much of the Shangri-La Dialogue’s focus would be on Southeast Asia and the general recognition on the part of all of the countries in the region over the past several years that their security environments are evolving, along with a recognition that they may desire to adjust their own positions accordingly.
Meanwhile, the United States must be flexible, the secretary said, noting that the U.S. military cultivates relationships in the region in a number of ways.
Gates will talk at the conference about the evolution and the changes of regional nations’ positions and what the future may hold. “The one thing that has been brought back to me in this job is how many countries around the world truly do consider the United States the indispensible nation,” he said.
The United States often is the catalyst for the development of multilateral cooperation. A decade ago, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia were reluctant to cooperate to counter piracy in the Straits of Malacca. But the United States was a friend to each, and ultimately the three nations did cooperate. The result virtually eliminated piracy in the region, making one of the most important sea lanes safer.
“I think that as the kinds of problems the world is facing make it more difficult to be successful with a unilateral approach, the opportunity to build these partnerships become even more important,” Gates said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)