KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Aug. 25, 2013 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had productive meetings here today with Malaysian officials and said the United States is committed to building on progress made over the past few years and strengthening the U.S.-Malaysian partnership.
Hagel’s first visit to Malaysia as defense secretary is part of an Asia-Pacific trip that will include visits to Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.
“Malaysia has been a good friend to the United States, and the close security partnership we’ve forged holds great promise for ensuring our shared security and prosperity in the 21st century,” Hagel said this afternoon during a joint news conference with Defense Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.
“I know President [Barack] Obama appreciates the close relationship that exists between our two countries,” he added, “and I know he looks forward to his visit here in October to [attend] the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.”
Hagel and Hishammuddin met, the secretary said, “to discuss a range of security issues of importance to both our countries and to this region.”
Praising Malaysia’s growing military capabilities, Hagel said Malaysia has made increasingly important contributions to regional and global security.
The Malaysian military has made impressive contributions to counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and to United Nations peacekeeping efforts with nearly 1,000 troops deployed worldwide this year, he said, adding that Malaysian armed forces medical personnel are contributing to security in Afghanistan.
The United States welcomes these efforts by the Malaysian military, Hagel said, “and today I made clear that the U.S. is continuing to assist Malaysia’s military as it increases its capabilities in areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping, maritime security and counterterrorism.”
This year the United States will conduct more than 75 activities, exchanges and visits with the Malaysian military, the secretary added, all designed to help it become a more professional and flexible force.
Hagel said he and the defense minister also discussed ways to counter transnational threats, such as trafficking and proliferation, and future areas of cooperation, such as technology collaboration and expanding defense trade and information sharing.
“Minister Hishammuddin and I reaffirmed our shared belief that greater multilateral cooperation and strong regional institutions are essential -- essential,” Hagel stressed, “to greater stability in the region.”
After the news conference, Hagel met with Prime Minister Najib Razak and later delivered a speech at the Ministry of Defense to a packed auditorium of defense officials and business leaders.
In the speech, the secretary discussed how the Asia-Pacific region will help to shape the trajectory of global security and prosperity, and how the United States is rebalancing the weight of its global diplomatic, economic and security engagement toward the Asia-Pacific.
“Since President Obama took office in 2009, the United States has made major advances in its relationships in Southeast Asia and recognized the centrality of ASEAN,” Hagel said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose 10 member states are Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Defense ministers from these nations are attendees of the annual ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting, or ADMM. And the upcoming ADMM-Plus meeting is made up of ASEAN members and eight dialogue partners: the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, New Zealand and Russia.
“My upcoming visit to the ADMM-Plus [in Brunei],” Hagel said, “and my travel to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines this week is an example of how the United States is engaging in ‘defense diplomacy’ in the region.”
Other diplomatic efforts include engagement with Burma, engagement in the region by Obama administration officials, and a high-standard trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership whose negotiations Malaysia has joined, the secretary said.
“These diplomatic and economic initiatives are designed to bring greater prosperity to all of our nations by building trade and investment, increasing our cultural and societal ties, educating our people, and fostering innovation to provide better health care, more renewable energy, and a sustainable environment,” Hagel said. “But success in every one of these areas is underpinned by peace and security.”
A key component of the U.S. security strategy is to help nations and institutions across the region improve their ability to address these threats through joint military exercises and engagements, he said. As part of the rebalance, the United States is making such exercises more robust and is including more nations across the region. An example is Cobra Gold.
What began as a bilateral military exercise between the United States and treaty ally Thailand in 1980 has evolved into a multilateral exercise involving more than 13,000 personnel from the United States, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea, the secretary said, all training together in areas such as jungle warfare, counterproliferation, and combined arms.
Another example is RIMPAC, he said, the U.S. Navy’s largest multilateral exercise. This features 46 navy vessels, 200 aircraft and more than 25,000 personnel. India joined the exercise in 2012, and in 2014 Brunei and China will participate for the first time.
The United States is also helping partners improve capabilities by providing new defense technology and equipment.
“Our most recent budget includes $90 million for foreign military financing and international military education and training programs in Southeast Asia, an increase of more than 50 percent compared to four years ago,” Hagel said.
The United States is increasing commercial defense trade, he added, and envisions moving toward co-production and co-development of new platforms with close partners in the region, sharing American technology and expertise to deepen security partnerships.
Multilateral cooperation -- U.S. partners in the region cooperating more effectively with each other and with other nations in the region -- is essential to meeting transnational security challenges, Hagel explained. Such nations include close U.S. allies Australia, Japan and South Korea, and emerging powers such as China and India, he added, without whose active involvement and participation no security architecture in Southeast Asia can succeed.
“To further this kind of cooperation, we are making new investments in the Asia-Pacific region’s growing security architecture, particularly ASEAN-led institutions like the ADMM-Plus, which is now Asia’s primary multilateral defense ministerial,” the secretary said.
Enhancing U.S. contributions to regional institutions is a key pillar of U.S. strategy in the region, he added.
“Together,” Hagel told the audience, “the United States and all the nations of this region are defining a new future, one where we embrace the obligation to conduct ourselves responsibly and identify ways to work together to solve common challenges.”