United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III on Thursday (Wednesday in Washington, D.C.) announced that he will be visiting the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam this weekend to convey the message that the US remains a reliable partner and “a friend who shows up when it counts”.
In a press briefing at the Pentagon, Austin said his Southeast Asian swing will allow him to continue to make the case for a more fair, open and inclusive regional order and to ensure that all countries get a “fair shake”.
“We don’t believe that any one country should be able to dictate the rules, or worse yet, throw them over the transom, and in this regard, I’ll emphasize our commitment to the freedom — to freedom of the seas. I’ll also make clear where we stand on some unhelpful and unfounded claims by China in the South China Sea,” he said.
In Singapore, Austin is scheduled to deliver a lecture on how the US is strengthening its network of regional allies and partners. at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) on July 27.
The US defense chief is also making stops in Vietnam and the Philippines where he will meet with his counterparts and other top leaders amid growing concerns about China’s continued display of naval dominance and assertion of power in the South China Sea.
“And our emphasis will also remain on making sure that we keep those alliances strong and that — and that our allies and partners know that they can count on us going forward. And that’s the message that I’ll take to the theater,” he said.
Austin also emphasized the importance of freedom of navigation of the seas and the skies not only to the US but also to all its allies and partners to make sure that everyone can freely navigate the seas and the skies in accordance with international law.
Austin is the second high-ranking official of the Biden-Harris administration to visit Southeast Asia after Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s trip to the region last month.