Free and Open Indo-Pacific/FOIP

Indo-Pacific allies, partners preserve navigational rights, ensure secure, open global sea lines of communication


The United States and its allies and partners continue engaging in maritime security activities to safeguard international waters and key global sea lines of communication (SLOCs).

Thailand and the U.S., for example, conducted the 29th Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT)/Marine Exercise (MAREX) Thailand in May 2023, which included five days of drills in anti-submarine warfare; visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS); and maritime domain awareness.

“As two maritime nations who understand the vital role of protecting our seas and sovereignty, the lessons we were able to learn here will only strengthen our ability to build international stability and contribute to global prosperity,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Richard Skinnell, commanding officer of the littoral combat ship USS Mobile, which participated in the at sea portion of the exercise in the Gulf of Thailand along with Royal Thai Navy frigates HTMS Naresuan, HTMS Bangpakong and HTMS Kraburi.

The CARAT/MAREX series of exercises strengthen maritime understanding, partnerships, interoperability and security. (Pictured: Sri Lankan and U.S. Marines prepare for a VBSS exercise during CARAT/MAREX Sri Lanka 2023).

Other allies and partners, including Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, also recognize the importance of naval sea control.

Protecting SLOCs ensures critical waterways remain open to all nations and shielded from hostilities and nonneutral commerce. Effective sea control preserves navigational rights, prevents unlawful interference, and potentially denies an adversary’s use of straits and other constricted passageways between oceans and main sea routes for trade and other purposes.

Allied and partner forces operate together to counter attempts to erode international maritime governance, deny access to logistical hubs and inhibit freedom of the seas. Practices such as unlawful interference with states’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) rights, excessive maritime claims, and dangerous interactions with vessels and aircraft operating lawfully in international waters or airspace all violate international law.

The Chinese Communist Party continues to stage provocative military activities, including in the West Philippine Sea, Taiwan Strait and near Japan’s territorial waters, to menace commercial shipping and other maritime activities of its neighbors.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) also persists in coercing and intimidating nations by making excessive maritime claims and building artificial features and military outposts in disputed territory in the South China Sea. For example, Beijing has repeatedly interfered with the Philippine supply missions to Scarborough Shoal in Manila’s EEZ. In February 2023, a Chinese coast guard vessel aimed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard vessel near another shoal, temporarily blinding crew members.

The U.S. has affirmed that an armed attack on Philippine Armed Forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke U.S-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty obligations.

In addition to implementing enhanced defense agreements, like-minded nations also work together to conduct routine freedom of navigation transits through important sea lanes, as well as multinational naval exercises such as Balikatan, Iron Fist, Garuda Shield, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), and Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training.

An Australian Defence Force AH-1Z Viper helicopter squadron conducts flight operations with the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Canberra during the multilateral 2022 RIMPAC exercise.

Given the vital significance of chokepoints and SLOCs to the global economy, the U.S. and its allies and partners conduct exercises such as 2023 CARAT/MAREX Thailand to ensure critical waterways remain open for trade and freedom of navigation, and shielded from hostilities and war-supporting shipping by adversaries.

“This exercise remains a model for U.S.-Thai cooperation that has evolved in complexity and allowed our navies to refine operations and tactics in response to emerging challenges,” U.S. Rear Adm. Derek Trinque, commander of Task Force 76/3 and Task Group CARAT, said during the opening ceremony. “Thailand is America’s oldest treaty ally in Southeast Asia, and CARAT is a demonstration of the U.S.’s unwavering commitment to Thailand and like-minded allies and partners, in support of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific that preserves regional peace, prosperity and stability.”


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