U.S. promotes free and open Indo-Pacific during naval exercise

U.S. promotes free and open Indo-Pacific during naval exercise

A senior U.S. naval officer underlined Washington’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific as the United States launched its first joint naval exercise with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in early September 2019.

Rear Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, pictured at center, spoke at the opening ceremony of the ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise at the Sattahip naval base in eastern Thailand.

He said the multilateral exercise demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, which Washington has been promoting to counter the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) increasing influence in the Indo-Pacific, including the PRC’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Several Southeast Asian countries contest the Chinese claims of ownership of almost all of the strategically important area. The PRC has asserted its claim by building seven islands and equipping them with military runways, missile defense systems and outposts.

The United States has been shoring up relations with allies and taking a higher military profile in the Pacific to counter the PRC’s aggression.

The joint operation, first proposed in 2017, involves eight warships and four aircraft from seven of ASEAN’s 10 countries and more than 1,000 personnel. As well as practicing search and seizure operations, the exercise worked on interoperability in maritime asset tracking and division tactics.

“We are a robust constellation of allies and partners working collectively toward continued security and stability of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Whitesell. “There is no better signal of our desire to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific than the robust diversity of U.S. naval operations in this region.”

The U.S. has accused the PRC of bullying behavior and recently sailed an aircraft carrier through the disputed waters, one in a series of freedom-of-navigation operations.

“We are in the Indo-Pacific to stay,” said Whitesell. “My promise to you is that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with all nations who share a mutual respect for and adherence to international law, as well as a vision of free and open Indo-Pacific.”