Secretary Recaps Recent Asia-Pacific Trip

WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta today pro­vid­ed a per­son­al recap of his recent trip to Indone­sia, Japan and South Korea in a mes­sage to the men and women of the Defense Depart­ment.

Here is the secretary’s mes­sage:

Last week, I trav­eled to the Asia-Pacif­ic region for the first time as Sec­re­tary of Defense. I took this oppor­tu­ni­ty to reas­sure our many allies and part­ners there of the con­tin­ued U.S. com­mit­ment to Asia-Pacif­ic secu­ri­ty. The mes­sage I con­veyed at all my stops was that the U.S. is and will remain a Pacif­ic pow­er, that we are rebal­anc­ing to focus on the Asia-Pacif­ic as a strate­gic pri­or­i­ty, and that we are com­mit­ted to sus­tain­ing and enhanc­ing our mil­i­tary pres­ence in the region.


The first stop on my trip was Bali, Indone­sia, where we arrived after a 22 hour non-stop flight from Wash­ing­ton, DC aboard the “Dooms­day Plane.” After that long flight, I was cer­tain­ly in need of spir­i­tu­al reju­ve­na­tion, and was pleased to begin my first day by attend­ing mass with Indone­sian Defense Min­is­ter Purnomo. Amid the busy pace of these trips, it feels good to stop and offer a few prayers for our troops and their fam­i­lies.

Over the course of two days in Bali, I had excel­lent meet­ings with Indonesia’s Pres­i­dent Yud­hoy­ono and Defense Min­is­ter Purnomo dur­ing which I sought to strength­en our grow­ing defense ties with this key part­ner. This year alone, the U.S. is con­duct­ing more than 150 activ­i­ties, exchanges, and vis­its with the Indone­sian mil­i­tary. My warm dis­cus­sions with these lead­ers empha­sized ways to fur­ther coop­er­a­tion between our mil­i­taries in three key areas � human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief, mar­itime secu­ri­ty, and peace­keep­ing. I also com­mend­ed Indonesia’s lead­er­ship in the region, empha­sized our com­mit­ment to assist­ing Indone­sian efforts on defense reform and mod­ern­iza­tion, under­scored the impor­tance of mil­i­tary adher­ence to human rights stan­dards, and lis­tened to their views on region­al secu­ri­ty.

Indone­sia has emerged as a key sup­port­er of region­al mul­ti­lat­er­al orga­ni­za­tions, and the cen­ter­piece of my trip to Bali was a meet­ing with the Asso­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Nation (ASEAN) Defense Min­is­ters. This was the first time a U.S. Sec­re­tary of Defense has met with ten ASEAN coun­ter­parts in what is called a “10+1” set­ting. In my ses­sion with the ASEAN Defense Min­is­ters, I stressed the Unit­ed States’ endur­ing com­mit­ment to free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, and I under­scored our sup­port for a com­mon approach to mar­itime secu­ri­ty that is con­sis­tent with inter­na­tion­al law and norms.

I also rein­forced our endur­ing com­mit­ment to the region’s emerg­ing mul­ti­lat­er­al secu­ri­ty archi­tec­ture, and our sup­port for the ASEAN Secu­ri­ty Com­mu­ni­ty. This gath­er­ing of South­east Asia defense min­is­ters was also an ide­al set­ting in which to deliv­er my key mes­sage: that the U.S. is rebal­anc­ing to focus on the Asia-Pacif­ic as a strate­gic pri­or­i­ty. The min­is­ters con­veyed their appre­ci­a­tion, not­ing that my pres­ence demon­strat­ed tan­gi­ble evi­dence of the renewed U.S. com­mit­ment to the region.


I then trav­eled to Tokyo, where I met with Japan­ese Prime Min­is­ter Noda, For­eign Min­is­ter Gem­ba, and Defense Min­is­ter Ichikawa. While I’ve had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vis­it Japan in oth­er capac­i­ties, this was my first trip to Japan as Sec­re­tary of Defense. The his­toric Alliance between our two coun­tries serves not only the defense of Japan, but has proven a cor­ner­stone of peace and sta­bil­i­ty in the Asia Pacif­ic region for more than fifty years. My meet­ing with Min­is­ter Ichikawa afford­ed us the chance to build a stronger work­ing rela­tion­ship and to dis­cuss a range of issues relat­ing the secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty of the region � includ­ing North Korea’s provoca­tive behav­ior, China’s grow­ing mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties, and the realign­ment of U.S. forces in Japan.

Regard­ing the realign­ment of U.S. forces in Japan, Min­is­ter Ichikawa assured me of the Gov­ern­ment of Japan’s inten­tion to move for­ward with the steps nec­es­sary for the Futen­ma Replace­ment Facil­i­ty, a crit­i­cal ini­tia­tive in our effort to main­tain a strong for­ward deployed pres­ence in the Asia-Pacif­ic region, to realign our forces in Japan, and reduce the impact of our bases in Oki­nawa. We also con­firmed our com­mit­ment to the estab­lish­ment of an oper­a­tional Marine pres­ence on Guam.

I also held two town hall gath­er­ings with hun­dreds of U.S. and Japan­ese Self Defense Force ser­vice mem­bers. The first was on Yoko­ta Air Base with U.S. and Japan­ese forces that par­tic­i­pat­ed in relief oper­a­tions fol­low­ing the March 2011 earth­quake and tsuna­mi. The event pro­vid­ed an excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ty to not only show my appre­ci­a­tion for the troops, but to point out that the speed and effec­tive­ness with which they respond­ed result­ed direct­ly from sus­tained U.S.-Japan invest­ments over the years in readi­ness and capa­bil­i­ty. Work­ing close­ly togeth­er for these many years, our mil­i­taries have forged close bonds that proved their enor­mous val­ue when dis­as­ter struck.

The sec­ond event took place on board USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet com­mand ship, and includ­ed sailors from sev­er­al ships for­ward-deployed to Yoko­su­ka Naval Base, all of which sup­port­ed the dis­as­ter response oper­a­tion, Oper­a­tion Tomodachi. On Blue Ridge, I was briefed on the extra­or­di­nary efforts of the entire 7th Fleet dur­ing Tomodachi: some 22 ships, over 150 air­craft and more than 19,000 per­son­nel mobi­lized, work­ing non-stop, for twen­ty sev­en days deliv­er­ing sup­plies, con­duct­ing search and res­cue, and evac­u­at­ing injured. It was tru­ly an impres­sive feat. We helped Japan, a true friend, stand back up after they’d been knocked down. Our Japan­ese friends are still stand­ing, and because of their impres­sive resilience, and the fan­tas­tic efforts of our remark­able men and women in uni­form, they will come back stronger than ever.


My final stop on our whirl­wind trip through Asia was the Repub­lic of Korea (ROK). Ear­li­er in Octo­ber, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to host ROK Pres­i­dent Lee and Defense Min­is­ter Kim at the Pen­ta­gon as part of Pres­i­dent Lee’s state vis­it. So it was a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to be able to vis­it them in their own coun­try, and con­tin­ue to deep­en and strength­en our work­ing rela­tion­ship. The U.S.-ROK alliance has exist­ed for more than 60 years, yet it remains as strong today as the day it was formed.

The main rea­son I stopped in Korea was to con­duct the 43rd annu­al Secu­ri­ty Con­sul­ta­tive Meet­ing (SCM) with Defense Min­is­ter Kim. But I also took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet with the ROK For­eign Min­is­ter and Pres­i­dent Lee to con­vey the U.S. com­mit­ment to ROK secu­ri­ty and our con­tin­ued pres­ence and pur­pose in Asia. In all of these office calls, my cen­tral mes­sage was to reaf­firm the strength of the U.S.-ROK Alliance and our con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to deter­ring North Kore­an aggres­sion. Gen­er­al Mar­ty Dempsey, Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was also present for these meet­ings; it meant a lot to con­vey these reas­sur­ances with him there, and he added his valu­able mil­i­tary per­spec­tive to these dis­cus­sions. Per­haps most impor­tant­ly, we pro­vid­ed a path for­ward to reas­sure and gain ROK agree­ment that we will deal with future North Kore­an provo­ca­tions as an Alliance.

I told my Kore­an coun­ter­part that I can vivid­ly recall the moment when, as a boy, I heard the news that the Unit­ed States was fight­ing on the Kore­an penin­su­la. It was short­ly after World War II, and I remem­ber the con­cern that my par­ents had, and that I felt myself, that Amer­i­ca was now enter­ing anoth­er world war. The min­is­ter told me that he was a baby at the time of the inva­sion, and his moth­er was car­ry­ing him when a plane flew over­head, and she put an umbrel­la over him to try and pro­tect him as they ran for cov­er in a cave. Now, both of us are lead­ers charged with the respon­si­bil­i­ty to main­tain the strong alliance between the Unit­ed States and Korea, to ensure that, hope­ful­ly that kind of war nev­er hap­pens again.

One of my final events in South Korea was a town hall meet­ing with U.S. ser­vice mem­bers � and their Kore­an Aug­mentee part­ners � at Yongsan Post. This was a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to thank these brave men and women who serve lit­er­al­ly on the front­lines of one of the world’s crit­i­cal hot­pots. I thanked them, and their fam­i­lies � both those on the penin­su­la and those at home await­ing their loved ones’ return, for the sac­ri­fices they’ve made. I tru­ly believe that the sup­port and sac­ri­fice pro­vid­ed by our mil­i­tary fam­i­lies is cen­tral to the strength of our mil­i­tary � they qui­et­ly serve as the crit­i­cal foun­da­tion for our nation’s secu­ri­ty. Ques­tions from the troops focused on ben­e­fits and retire­ment � a reminder that the bud­get debates in Wash­ing­ton, DC, are very close­ly fol­lowed by all of our troops around the world. I returned inspired to do every­thing I can to fight for them and their qual­i­ty of life.

In sum­ma­ry, this trip cov­ered a lot of ground � both in terms of pol­i­cy and actu­al trav­el � over sev­en days in meet­ings with coun­ter­parts from 12 dif­fer­ent nations. I was able to get our mes­sages out that we remain engaged in Asia, that we are work­ing with our Allies to broad­en our tra­di­tion­al part­ner­ships, that we are sup­port­ive of region­al mul­ti­lat­er­al archi­tec­tures, and that we seek a con­struc­tive rela­tion­ship with a respon­si­ble Chi­na.

Ulti­mate­ly, the strength of these part­ner­ships rests on our stand­ing as the strongest mil­i­tary in the world, and the strength of that force rests in you, the men and women of the Depart­ment, who work every day to defend our coun­try, and advance our inter­ests in the world.

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