BALI, Indonesia, Oct. 23, 2011 — The United States strongly supports the continuing development of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations security community, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
The secretary is in Indonesia on the first leg of a trip that will take him to Japan tomorrow and South Korea later this week.
Panetta addressed the annual meeting of ASEAN defense ministers here at the invitation of his Indonesian counterpart, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, whom he met with earlier this afternoon, which was early this morning in the United States.
ASEAN was formed in 1967 and now includes 10 member states: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
After the ministerial, Panetta told reporters the United States is a Pacific nation and its leaders are committed to making the country a force for peace and prosperity in the Pacific region.
He and the ASEAN ministers discussed issues of maritime security, proliferation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the secretary said.
“The ministers were very frank in presenting their views,” he said. “I told them that I would do everything possible … to develop a relationship in which the security of this region will be strengthened for the future.”
A senior defense official traveling with Panetta and who attended the ministerial gathering said on background that the meeting was frank but upbeat.
“This was the most open and free-flowing ASEAN discussion that I have been in,” the official said. “It’s a testament to the leadership of Indonesia for pulling this together and for setting the right tone.”
Each minister spoke, the official said, and the South China Sea was a topic many of them addressed.
“What was clear is that there is a common position that the ASEAN ministers … have articulated,” the official said.
A joint document issued by ASEAN defense ministers in July reads, in part, “We [call] on all parties to respect the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law.”
ASEAN formally adopted six fundamental principles in 1976:
— Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations;
— The right of every state to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion;
— Noninterference in the internal affairs of one another;
— Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful manner;
— Renunciation of the threat or use of force; and
— Effective cooperation among themselves.
During today’s meeting, the official said, the ministers discussed countering nuclear proliferation.
“I think we’ve seen a very clear commitment from ASEAN to address multilateral issues through multilateral mechanisms,” the official said. “[Part of] their discussion today was about how to maintain … working together on multilateral issues.”
The official said many of the ministers discussed nuclear proliferation, and they affirmed no ASEAN nation wants the region to become “an area where weapons of mass destruction or their delivery systems are flowing.”
The official added, “They have all in the past spoken, and many of them spoke today, about being committed … to ensuring the region is not open and free for that kind of trade.”
Panetta is scheduled to meet with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tomorrow before traveling on to Japan. Later in the week, the secretary will conclude his Asia trip with a stop in South Korea.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)