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Carter, Admirals Take Questions on China at Shangri-La Dialogue

WASHINGTON, June 04, 2016 — Defense Secretary Ash Carter and two of his senior naval officers today responded to reporters’ questions about China during the 15th annual International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore.

The news conference followed a speech Carter gave on, “The Asia-Pacific’s Principled Security Network,” during which he advocated continued and increased cooperation among the leaders and militaries in the region.

Carter was joined by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson, U.S. Pacific Command commander Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., and David B. Shear, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs.

‘Cooperate Where We Can; Confront When We Must’

Carter and both admirals outlined a dual approach to China, which recently has sought to establish its hold on islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea by dredging and building airstrips and military outposts on territories claimed by multiple nations.

Richardson said the Navy’s approach is the same in the Asia-Pacific as in other parts of the world: safeguarding freedom of navigation and the global commons.

“We're challenging excessive maritime claims around the world, and advocating for that rules-based order, particularly in the global commons,” he said.

Harris said, “We want to cooperate with China in all domains as much as possible, so we have to have a view, and I have a view of cooperation where we can, but we have to confront them if we must.”

He went on, “I would rather that we didn't have to, but we have to operate from a position of strength against all outcomes, and that's why you have the Pacific Command, among other things, out there.”

Building a Principled Security Network

Carter recapped for reporters the principles-based strategy he discussed during today’s speech.

“The United States and many others in the Asia-Pacific are working together to build a principled security network to ensure that everyone and every nation can continue to rise and prosper,” he said. “So our rebalance … is a critical ingredient to our overall policy. Our overall policy which I described today is one of supporting principle networks, including through the rebalance.”

Carter added, “That network, by expanding the reach of all, by responsibly sharing the security group, represents the next wave of Asia-Pacific security. Our rebalance ensures that the U.S. will remain the primary provider of regional security and a leading contributor to the region's principled security network.”

The principles involved, Carter said, include “freedom from coercion, the ability for each country to make its own choices, for disputes to be solved peacefully, for countries to work together cooperatively and not against one another in the military sphere, to solve many of these problems that we all share in common to include humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response to humanitarian tragedies, counter piracy, counter terrorism.”

He added, “There are lots of things that we need to do and can better do together, and it's that kind of positive working together rather than working against one another that is the American approach out here.”

Peacefulness, lawfulness, and freedom of the commons are things the United States has stood for during many decades in the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

“Each country is going to have to make its own choices out here,” Carter said. “We hope that every country, including China, chooses to be part of the network and not to exclude themselves from that system. But that's a choice each country has to make on its own.”

(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @DoDNewsKParrish)