WASHINGTON — The Pacific remains "the defining region" for America's future, despite the ongoing challenges in the Arabian Gulf and European regions, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Monday.
In his first major speech focused on the region, Carter made it clear that world events of the last year will notw deter him from continuing the so-called pivot to Asia, telling an audience at Arizona State University that he is "personally committed" to overseeing the continued refocus in the Pacific.
Carter said it remained his goal to "lift our heads up and think about the places and events" that will change future security, and identified the Pacific as the hub of that future.
The secretary's comments came hours before the start of his first trip to the Pacific region since his confirmation as secretary in February.
He will spend April 8-9 with Japanese officials before moving on to Seoul for two days of talks with South Korean representatives. The trip concludes with an April 11 visit to US Pacific Command in Honolulu. , Hawaii.
The speech laid out a roadmap of sorts for how Carter sees the Pentagon approaching the Pacific and its strategic challenge.
That includes an emphasis on new technologies, such as the long-range strike-bomber and new anti-ship cruise missile, both of which can cover the major distances that come into play when operating in Asia. It also includes keeping current generation technologies, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter, on track and not falling behind on production.
However, Carter emphasized, the greatest key is the relationships between nations.
The "miracle of rapid progress" seen throughout Asia has been enabled by the "enduring presence and relationships of the United States," Carter argued, and maintaining those relationships will be a key part of his message next week.
The US and Japan are developing new guidelines to take cooperation "to a whole new level," Carter said, and while he is abroad he will be working on a trilateral information-sharing arrangement among between the US, Japan and Korea. And while those are more traditional allies for the US, Carter also took time to acknowledge Vietnam, whose ambassador, Pham Quang Vinh, was in attendance during the speech.
Carter also came out forcefully for the trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is being negotiated among between Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.
Getting the TPP finalized is "as important" as getting another aircraft carrier in the budget, Carter said. Those financial ties are "an important part of the strength of our country, and it's a sign of our strategic influence."
The secretary also struck a tentatively positive note when discussing China, noting that while "the US and China are not allies, but we don't have to be adversaries."
"I reject the zero-sum thinking that China's gain is our loss," Carter said. "There is another scenario in which everyone wins."