Next week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will convene the first U.S.-hosted meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Defense Department Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today in a press briefing here.
Following the meeting, Hagel will travel to the Asia-Pacific region for visits with his counterparts in Japan, China and Mongolia, Kirby added.
The trip will be Hagel’s fourth official visit to the Asia-Pacific, a region of growing importance and emphasis for U.S. foreign policy and its defense strategy, the press secretary said.
“The secretary extended this invitation to ASEAN ministers in his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue last June [and] participated in the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus last August,” Kirby told reporters.
Increased and expanded DOD engagement with ASEAN members has been a priority for Hagel, the admiral noted, and the secretary has worked with U.S. Pacific Command Commander Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III to focus on making the upcoming historic gathering a success.
Kirby said the ASEAN meeting will identify ways to strengthen multilateral security cooperation in the region and build more robust partnerships between military and civilian agencies to improve humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.
Toward that end, Hagel has invited leaders from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development to join the meeting and is pleased the NOAA and USAID leaders will attend, the admiral added.
According to the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, DOD leaders expect the frequency, scale and complexity of future humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions to increase, Kirby said.
“Secretary Hagel believes the United States and our partners must be prepared for that reality,” he noted.
From Hawaii, Hagel will travel to Japan for his second visit there as defense secretary.
“When he traveled there in October with Secretary [of State John] Kerry, he announced that the United States and Japan will begin the process of revising the defense guidelines that underpin our bilateral military-to-military relationship,” Kirby said, adding, “This upcoming trip is an opportunity to discuss those ongoing efforts and as well as other regional security matters.”
This week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and President Barack Obama met in the Netherlands, the admiral added, and Hagel’s Japan visit is an opportunity to build on those discussions.
Next, Hagel will make his first visit as defense secretary to China.
“He’s very much looking forward to this visit, having hosted his Chinese counterpart [last August] here at the Pentagon,” Kirby said. “He has longstanding ties to China, beginning when he traveled there for business in the early 1980s. He also built strong relationships with senior Chinese leaders while serving as a U.S. senator.”
In China, Hagel will have a full complement of bilateral engagements focusing on the military-to-military relationship and on regional security issues, the admiral said, adding that the secretary “views this relationship as crucial to our rebalance and he will emphasize the importance of building trust, increasing openness and transparency, and upholding international norms throughout his trip.”
Hagel’s final stop will be in Mongolia, the first visit there by a U.S. defense secretary in nearly 10 years.
Mongolia is becoming a more important security partner for the United States, having deployed forces to Iraq and Afghanistan and in peacekeeping operations worldwide, Kirby said, and during the visit Hagel will thank Mongolia for its contributions and discuss ways to enhance future U.S.-Mongolian cooperation.
Kirby said that, as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, Mongolia has a growing stake in stability across the Asia-Pacific region and he expects Hagel and the leaders there also to discuss regional security matters.
“This trip to Asia, his fourth in less than a year, is further evidence of the secretary’s personal commitment to the president’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region,” the admiral said, adding that the strategy is fully supported in the QDR and resourced in the president’s budget.
Most importantly, the strategy and budget shift the military from a focus on protracted counterinsurgency operations, he said, “seeking instead to regain full-spectrum capabilities that are relevant not only to Asia but to the challenges we see across the Middle East, and potentially even in Europe.”
Kirby added, “The priority this budget places on high-end capabilities and readiness is exactly what we believe is most relevant in a volatile and threatening world where America’s global commitments are and will remain sacrosanct.”