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Diplomacy in Action

U.S.-Malaysia Partnership


Remarks
Andrew J. Shapiro
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
Malaysia Armed Forces Defense College
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
February 15, 2012

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Thank you, it’s my great pleasure to be here in Malaysia. And I am honored to be here at the Malaysian Armed Forces Defense College. I appreciate the Commandant’s hospitality in hosting me for what I hope will be a lively discussion today.

Before I begin, let me just briefly explain a little about my background and my role at the State Department. For most of the previous decade, I worked for Secretary Clinton when she was a Senator from New York. I served as her top defense and foreign policy advisor in the Senate and I was fortunate enough that when she became Secretary of State she recommended to President Obama to appoint me to become Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs in the State Department.

In this role, I am charged with overseeing our Political-Military relationships with countries around the world. The Political-Military Affairs Bureau is the principal link between the Department of State and the Department of Defense. It oversees U.S. security assistance programs and military personnel exchanges. We also review all Foreign Military Sales and defense transfers and we issue all defense trade licenses. The Bureau is also at the forefront of confronting some of the more pressing transnational security challenges. We oversee efforts to expand global peacekeeping capacity. We are the lead office for confronting modern-day piracy off the coast of Somalia. And we are working to help countries ravaged by war by removing and eliminating illicit weapons and dangerous munitions, such as landmines and portable shoulder launched missiles (MANPADs). We are also seeking to increase the defense cooperation between the United States and countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including between the United States and Malaysia – which is why I am here today.

Renewed U.S. Focus on the Asia-Pacific Region

When the Obama administration came to office the United States was engaged in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This inevitably meant that much of our time was consumed working on the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Even so, I can say that over the past few years I spent more time on Asia than I anticipated and I have visited the region numerous times. With the end of the war in Iraq and as the war in Afghanistan gradually winds down, our focus in the U.S. government is increasingly being pulled to this dynamic region.

There are compelling reasons to why we are focused on the Asia-Pacific. The Asia-Pacific is home to half the world’s population, more than half the world’s GDP and nearly half of its trade. It is home to key allies and emerging powers. It is home to booming middle classes and growing economic opportunities and is a region experiencing reductions in poverty without parallel in human history. Asia’s diversity is also an immense strength, as it is home to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and many others. As Secretary Clinton recently wrote, “It’s becoming increasingly clear that in the 21st century, the world’s strategic and economic center of gravity will be the Asia-Pacific.”

But even more fundamentally, the United States has long been part of the Asia-Pacific. American troops have sacrificed alongside their partners across the Pacific to help create the security that made prosperity possible. American islands and coastlines and people and businesses are part of the fabric of life of this region. And my President was born in the state of Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific. As President Obama and Secretary Clinton have said, "the United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay."

Now is certainly an exciting time to come to Southeast Asia as the United States renews its engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region. America is working to substantially increase our investments – diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise – in Southeast Asia.

This was evident last November when President Obama hosted the meeting of APEC Leaders in Hawaii; traveled to Australia to unveil a major new initiative to strengthen America’s force posture in the South Pacific; and then traveled to Bali to become the first U.S. President to participate in the East Asia Summit. In the new strategic guidance for the Defense Department released last month, the President called for increased focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

To follow through on this renewed focus, the United States is pursuing a three-pronged approach to our engagement.

  • First, we are broadening and deepening our cooperation with our treaty allies like Japan, Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand.
  • Second, we are enhancing our new partnerships with emerging players like China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and, of course, Malaysia.
  • And third, we are playing an active role in regional multilateral institutions like ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit, and APEC.

The U.S.-Malaysia partnership is an important part of our strategy in the Asia-Pacific region.

Under the leadership of President Obama and Prime Minister Najib, we have made remarkable progress in our relationship over the last two years. Our two leaders met most recently in November at the East Asia Summit in Bali, where they discussed the importance of continuing to expand our cooperation on a range of issues, from English language education to non-proliferation.

The United States and Malaysia have a strong economic relationship. The United States is Malaysia’s single largest investor. In 2010, America’s exports to Malaysia grew by 29% to a record of more than $18 billion. American imports from Malaysia also grew 11% to just shy of $20 billion. We are happy to have Malaysia as a partner in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the single most ambitious regional trade undertaking now underway in the world.

The United States and Malaysia are expanding our people-to-people contacts. Earlier this month the United States tripled the number of Americans teaching English in Malaysian public schools. We plan to continue to expand this program in 2013 and 2014. These plans would make our English Teaching Assistant program in Malaysia the biggest in Asia and the second biggest in the world.

Many assume that the U.S. is enhancing its engagement in Asia to confront a growing China. Let me be clear: the United States seeks to develop a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship with China. We understand that China will play an important role in addressing critical global challenges. We welcome that role. This is because we do not view regional influence or economic progress in zero-sum terms. In fact, we believe that the economic growth of one country benefits every country – through increased opportunities for trade and commerce. We also welcome good relations between China and Malaysia and believe it is in the interests of the United States for China to have positive and stable ties with its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

Over the long-term, China’s emergence as a regional power will have the potential to affect economic and security dynamics throughout the region and the world. While the growth of China’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions, our two countries have a strong stake in peace and stability in East Asia and a mutual interest in building a cooperative bilateral relationship.

Security Cooperation

The part of our engagement with the Asia-Pacific that I deal with is U.S. efforts to expand our security cooperation with the region. The United States is committed to maintaining the necessary capabilities, investments, and regional presence to successfully address the broad range of current and emerging security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region.

While the Asia-Pacific region is experiencing many gains, it also faces many challenges, such as: proliferation, piracy, trafficking and smuggling, devastating natural disasters, and lingering suspicion between powerful countries.

To help the region address some of these challenges, we are adopting a new, more engaged posture in the region. A new initiative announced by President Obama and Prime Minister Gillard of Australia will result in the gradual increase of U.S. military personnel on a rotational basis in northern Australia. The goal is to slowly expand on existing bilateral training to eventually reach a maximum presence of 2,500 Marines. They would be prepared to respond to regional contingencies, such as natural disasters, and would be able to engage regional counterparts in military exercises.

This will not only strengthen our ability to cooperate with close allies, but it will also enable the U.S. to respond to a myriad of traditional and non-traditional security challenges in the region, and contribute to the security of sea lanes that are vital to the global economy. Strengthening the web of security relationships and building new partnerships with emerging powers, including China, will be crucial to sustaining the regional stability that has facilitated rapid economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

U.S. – Malaysia Security Cooperation

Defense and security cooperation is also an integral part of the growing partnership between the United States and Malaysia – and we value that enhanced engagement with you.

Right now, the men and women of our armed forces are working together to help the people of Afghanistan. The forty-person medical team that Malaysia has deployed to Bamiyan Province provides essential medical care and training to Afghan citizens. Malaysia is making an important contribution to the responsible transition underway in Afghanistan which we greatly appreciate.

We value Malaysia’s increasing participation in military exercises with the United States, including multilateral exercises with other neighbors in the region. As we speak, Cobra Gold, the United States’ largest multilateral military exercise in Southeast Asia, is underway in Thailand. Last year, Malaysia participated for the first time with approximately 20 personnel. This year, I understand Malaysia has more than tripled its participation to 79 personnel. Malaysia also first participated in the Rim of the Pacific biennial naval exercises in 2010 and we understand that Malaysia intends to expand its participation this year.

In another sign of our growing relationship, U.S. naval ship visits to Malaysia have increased from the single digits annually fewer than ten years ago to over thirty last year. These ship visits afford us the opportunity to conduct passing exercises and otherwise engage with the Royal Malaysian Navy. They also give us the chance to demystify the U.S. military for the Malaysian public. We welcome these opportunities to interact with the Malaysian military and the Malaysian people. The increase in ship visits to Malaysia reflects our desire to further strengthen our defense relationship.

We greatly value these visits and the opportunity that Malaysia’s participation in military exercises provides to our armed forces personnel to train and exercise with their Malaysian counterparts. We trust that Malaysia finds this cooperation beneficial as well. And we hope Malaysia will continue to enhance its participation in multilateral exercises with the United States and other partners.

In addition to multilateral exercises, counter-piracy represents another element in which both U.S. and Malaysian forces are engaged. Part of my portfolio at the State Department is to oversee U.S. counter-piracy efforts. The United States and Malaysia both participate actively in the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. U.S. and Malaysian forces coordinate in their efforts to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa. We appreciate Malaysia’s contribution to the counter-piracy effort, both in the Indian Ocean and closer to home. I was impressed by Malaysia’s recent successes in rescuing hijacked vessels and deterring pirate attacks in Southeast Asia and off the Horn of Africa. Not only have Malaysian forces foiled such attacks, but you have brought the perpetrators back to Malaysia to stand trial. As maritime countries whose economies depend on trade, in is in our common interest to continue to expand our coordination and cooperation to promote maritime security.

The United States, as an Asia-Pacific nation, has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to the maritime domain in this region, the maintenance of peace and stability, and the respect for the rule of law in settling disputes in the South China Sea. At the most recent East Asia Summit leaders’ retreat, we were struck by the convergence in views expressed by President Obama and Prime Minister Najib on these core principles.

Additionally, the East Asia Summit also highlighted the value of increased regional cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. We hope that Malaysia will be a part of that as well.

Every year nearly one hundred men and women from the Malaysian Armed Forces travel to the United States to participate in professional education courses and other types of training. We jointly fund these exchanges with the Government of Malaysia, in part because we believe that the participation of military professionals from Malaysia and other countries enriches the educational experience that our own men and women receive. We value opportunities to exercise and train together in part because they promote the interoperability of our armed forces.

Another aspect of interoperability pertains to the defense equipment that our armed forces use. I know that Malaysia soon will make some important procurement decisions, including for combat aircraft, helicopters, and other defense equipment. Buying American promotes a closer relationship between our militaries and, of course, we believe that U.S. defense products like the F/A-18, F-16, and MH-60R are the best in the world.

And let me just say, I know there are a few rumors and distortions out there about American defense technology, some of which are conveniently brought up by some of our industry competitors. Let me be clear, we provide the best, most advanced defense systems and don’t let anyone tell you differently. One of the benefits of buying American is that we tailor our products – their capabilities and technologies – to the needs of each buyer. So you get a truly unique product, in accordance with your required specifications. I can tell you that our competitors don't necessarily ascribe to these same high standards.

Our U.S. defense industries are also interested in establishing close partnerships with Malaysian counterparts. I already mentioned the strong economic ties we share and that the United States is Malaysia’s largest investor. Cooperation in military procurement will enable progress in this area and I know many of our largest defense contractors are working with Malaysian companies to this end.

To close, increasing the interoperability between our forces and our defense cooperation more broadly can play a key role in furthering the relationship between our two countries. We all know that the United States and Malaysia won’t see eye-to-eye on every issue. Nonetheless, we share key values and interests. Continuing to expand our cooperation across the board, including on defense and security issues, will enable both our countries to promote the values that we both hold dear and to secure our shared interest in peaceful and prosperous future.

Thank you again for having me here. And with that I would be happy to take some questions.



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