Nations Want Better Relations with U.S., Gates Says

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.

Shangri-La Dialogue
Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates speaks with mem­bers of his pol­i­cy team before brief­ing reporters while en route to Sin­ga­pore, June 1, 2011. Gates is trav­el­ing to Sin­ga­pore to par­tic­i­pate in the Shangri-La Dia­logue, an annu­al Asia secu­ri­ty sum­mit.
DOD pho­to by Cherie Cullen
Click to enlarge

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)

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