Hagel, ASEAN Defense Ministers Expand Disaster-relief Partners

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HONOLULU, April 3, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations crisscrossed the city yesterday in a motorcade of vans, buses and police cars, adding potential partners or capabilities that might expand humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts in the Asia-Pacific region at every stop.

On the second day of the first U.S.-hosted ASEAN defense ministers meeting, Hagel and the ministers spoke with experts from the commercial sector, nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations and federal aid and science agencies.

“I'll begin by thanking the ASEAN defense ministers for their participation [and] their commitment to come here and be part of something that is -- and I think they share my feeling -- something that's important,” Hagel said during a media briefing at the end of the day.

“We had had an opportunity this morning to spend a couple of hours specifically focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” he added, noting that he’d met with Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA, part of the Commerce Department, has a new building in Honolulu -- the Inouye Regional Center on Ford Island at Naval Station Pearl Harbor. There, NOAA’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, or PTWC, and its 24/7 operational team -- with help and support from onsite experts from the U.S. Geological Survey and others -- deliver tsunami warnings for every country in the Pacific and the Caribbean.

Hagel and the ministers were briefed there yesterday about typhoons, tsunamis and sea-level rise. Dr. Charles McCreery, the center’s director, showed Hagel and the ministers a simulation of the March 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake near the east coast of Honshu, Japan, and the resulting tsunami that killed nearly 16,000 people and injured more than 6,000, according to Japan’s National Police Agency.

Afterward, Hagel, Shah, Sullivan, the ministers, Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and others participated in a roundtable discussion on disaster preparedness and relief that Shah moderated.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Shah said, the Asia-Pacific region is hit by more than 70 percent of the world’s natural disasters. And in his remarks before the roundtable, Shah praised Hagel’s vision of using the forum “to help us build greater cooperation across all the range of issues that bring us together as a community.”

Natural disasters have cost the world roughly $300 billion and 30,000 lives in the last two years alone, the USAID administrator added.

“This is a unique opportunity,” Shah said, “for us to learn together how we can be supportive of your efforts as defense ministers, often called in when the times are toughest, and expected to perform under conditions of little information and extraordinary crisis.”

At the media briefing, held aboard USS Anchorage, the seventh San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship, Hagel described the rest of the ministers’ day, including a tour of the Anchorage.

“This afternoon, we spent some time here on USS Anchorage,” the secretary said, “[and] we spent some time looking at the V-22.”

The Anchorage, which operates with “We Leave Nothing to Chance” as its motto, was built to deploy and especially for responding to crises worldwide and providing humanitarian assistance and disaster response, according to the ship’s website.

The MV-22 Osprey has vertical takeoff and landing capability and the speed and range of a turboprop aircraft. It can carry 24 Marine combat troops twice as fast and five times farther than previous helicopters, the manufacturer’s website says.

A few minutes after Hagel ended his media briefing, two Ospreys appeared as dots in the blue Hawaiian sky. Soon, they were flying over the Anchorage’s flight deck, with silhouettes unlike those of any other aircraft.

“We also focused on our military-to-military relationships and joint exercises that we continue to strengthen and deepen and widen”, Hagel said, adding that the purpose of such exercises is security and stability, assuring that all nations have commercial options.

“It is trade, it's exchanges, it's about free people,” the secretary observed. “And as I have said and you all know, the United States has been a Pacific power for many years. We intend to continue to be a Pacific power [and] to cooperate with our ASEAN partners and all nations in the Asia-Pacific.”

At a dinner last night, the ministers noted their accomplishments and toasted their success.

Later today, the last day of the ASEAN Defense Forum, the ministers will hold an informal session on regional security issues before the final news conference.

A link to the article is available here.