Moderator: Hi. Good morning everyone. I’d like to thank our participants from across Asia and the United States for joining us.
I’m particularly grateful for the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Andrea Thompson, and Rear Admiral JT Tynch for joining us from Washington, D.C. and Singapore respectively.
We’ll start with opening remarks by Under Secretary Thompson who was recently in the Indo-Pacific region, and then the Rear Admiral will follow up to make remarks about the ongoing Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training Exercise. We’ll then open it up to Q&A. I would ask that participants keep their questions focused on today’s topic, U.S. commitment to regional security, and the SEACAT Exercise.
A quick reminder that today’s call is on the record.
With that, I’ll now turn it over to Under Secretary Thompson.
Under Secretary Thompson: Great, thank you, Mary Beth, and thanks for the reporters that have joined us. I appreciate the opportunity.
I am really pleased to be joined by Rear Admiral Tynch for today’s call. As Mary Beth mentioned, I just returned from a fantastic trip. I’ve been to Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia. And during the trip I met with government representatives, industry executives and academics to learn their views on regional security issues and literally to see first-hand our State Department programs that are contributing decisively to the broader goal of the administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.
In pursuit of these goals, both the Secretary, myself, State Department colleagues, are working every day to develop security cooperation and defense trade. We’re expanding partnerships in nonproliferation and maintaining our international arms control regimes.
I’d also like to reiterate that the administration continues to actively engage with the Indo-Pacific region. As you know, the President visited last year to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. This year he was in Singapore for the Summit with the DPRK.
And then last month we hosted the AUSMIN 2+2 Ministerial with Australia which I also participated in with Secretaries Pompeo and Mattis. Also the recent Indo-Pacific Business Forum. The Secretary’s attendance at ASEAN Ministerial and SEACAT this week which we’ll talk about later.
During my recent trip I continued the important conversations, really underscoring our commitment to deepening our partnership with Indonesia and Vietnam as well as further expanding our longstanding alliance with Australia. Not only to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, but really also to work together more effectively, to tackle some shared global security challenges.
As Mary Beth noted, I am joined today by Rear Admiral Tynch who will discuss our military cooperation in the region, and particularly with emphasis on our SEACAT Exercise. As most of you probably know, SEACAT is incredibly important from a military perspective. Exercises like it are also critical to achieving our U.S. foreign policy goals, and they strengthen our relationships with our partners in the Indo-Pacific region, and helps us enable our partners as well achieve their security goals.
The Departments of State and Defense collaborate on a number of security initiatives at SEACAT because as you’ve seen, defense and diplomacy are both key to our national security.
What I’d like to do is discuss these and other issues with you, but I look forward to your questions, and now over to you, JT.
Rear Admiral Tynch: Thank you, Under Secretary. And thank you, Mary Beth and all the reporters who are dialed in here today.
Just like the Under Secretary said, during my time here I’ve been able to travel quite a bit through the region as well and I’ve really seen countless examples of the common purpose within the region with both our longstanding allies and with the growing relationships that we are seeing today.
I can’t think of a better example of these countries working together for a common purpose than what we see today in SEACAT.
The nature of the exercise reflects the nature of these relationships we have built as they evolve and grow stronger.
As SEACAT began, it was focused on counterterrorism, but over time, over the years it has evolved now, and right now we’ve broadened the scope for the cooperation and training as the main objectives. That’s what the vision of the exercise is.
Now let me tell you what it looks like. Currently here I’m at the Information Fusion Center in Singapore and we have Sailors and Coast Guardsmen from nine countries, from Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States, and they’re working together shoulder-to-shoulder. And they will move very shortly from the academic and workshops to actual practice, to sailing alongside each other and sharing critical information while they continue to build and refine a network of maritime domain awareness.
As this exercise kicks off, it’s not just the exercise itself that has given value, it’s all the relationships that have been built as we move toward the exercise. Because the exercise is the culmination of months and months of planning. Months of getting to know each other and building these relationships.
I’ve been lucky during my time here to see these folks work together. There was a really strong and unmistakable energy as they came together, working for this common purpose, to build common interoperability and trust between us all.
These relationships are valuable. They’ll be valuable to successfully and safely complete this exercise. They’ll be valuable in the years ahead as we respond to threats or provide humanitarian assistance for disaster relief when called upon. And that really is the true value of SEACAT. It’s a longstanding exercise, one that has continued to grow in complexity each year. And it’s one that as each country does go through the planning process, they decide and discern what will be best for them and we work it together as a team.
So these nine nations have designed academics and the workshops to set the stage for our at-sea period. And in this exercise we’re conducting visit, board, search and seizure events aboard three ships that we have contracted to complete these events. So there will be 15 live training exercises aboard these ships, both compliant and non-compliant.
And all of these build towards security, stability and prosperity for our allies and partners.
The one thing I’ve also seen traveling around is that information sharing is a key point and I just, again, as I said I’m at the Information Fusion Center here now, and just finished a tremendous tour. And during this exercise we’ll have 50 maritime domain awareness representatives working here at the Information Fusion Center in Singapore, with 15 others working in Thailand. That’s in addition to over almost 100 personnel that will be taking part in these VBSS events aboard 13 vessels from five countries.
And on the information-sharing front, there will be four maritime operation centers this year that are participating and should have reachback to. In Singapore, here today; the Philippines; Brunei; and a new one in Thailand that’s being stood up in Phuket. And they’ll all be working on CENTRIXS as we continue to gain a common operability amongst our computer systems.
So I think the last thing I would say is as I think of information sharing in this exercise, they are all based on rules-based order. And SEACAT confirms our commitment to rules-based order because to have rules-based order you have to have maritime domain awareness because if you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know if the rules are being followed, and you have to have that for stability, security and prosperity in all these countries.
Right now, the dedicated men and women from these nine countries are having at it. And I appreciate the time here, and stand by for any questions. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you both for those remarks. We’ll now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Because of limited time, I’ll try to get to as many people as possible for a first question before allowing for follow-ups.
Today we’re going to start off with a question from the Straits Times. Please go ahead.
Press: I’m [inaudible] from the Straits Times. Could you [inaudible] information sharing center as it’s being used for the first time in Phuket?
Rear Admiral Tynch: I think that all the military operation centers coming together is very important as they feed information from the units participating. You can imagine right now the way an exercise may play out is a Maritime Operation Center may get a contact if they are tracking in the center. They will pass that information perhaps back here to the Information Fusion Center in Singapore, who could reach out to a unit, for example, a United States P8 aircraft. That P8 aircraft could fly to investigate that contact, and that could be the trigger event to visit more search and seizure evolutions that then would be reported back to the IFC and back to the Maritime Operation Center that began the whole event.
So bringing each country in and fusing them together is a very important piece of this from an information sharing perspective, which leads straight to maritime domain awareness. And in my opinion, it’s the bedrock for rules-based order in the region.
Moderator: Thanks so much.
We’re not seeing any questions in queue. I’ll go with the next question.
Under Secretary, if you could just say from your travels across the region if there are one or two lasting impressions you’d like to share with the group on what you see as the future of U.S. cooperation.
Under Secretary Thompson: Yeah, absolutely. There’s been memorable experiences in all three countries. It was, again, just a really positive experience. Staging information both in the government sector, academia and industry. Again, it proves the [inaudible] administration’s free and open access to the maritime domain. As JT just talked about, I saw that in action. It’s the cornerstone of our Indo-Pacific Strategy, it’s essential for the U.S. national security. And I saw this, whether it was foreign military sales, robust exercises with the U.S. and our partners in the region, or just sitting down and talking with those government officials. It was very clear how closely tied we are with our partners and allies as we support that strategy in the Indo-Pacific.
Moderator: Great, thanks so much.
The next question comes from Thanh Nien. Please go ahead.
Press: Thank you for doing this. For Admiral Tynch. You mentioned about three ships in this SEACAT. So what are they? Are they literal combat ship in deploy? Thank you.
Rear Admiral Tynch: Ok, let me read that question back, please, because I want to make sure I understood it.
We have three vessels that the visit, board, search and seizures will take place against, and this is a fantastic improvement in that they are dedicated like vessels for these countries to do their VBSS events against. However, they are not literal combat ships, if that was your question. They are contracted ships we have, contracted for the event.
Did that answer your question? Did I read it right? The comms were a little broken.
Press: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s fine. Thank you.
Moderator: The next question goes to the Hanoi Times.
Press: Good morning, Miss. I would like to have the first question for Under Secretary Thompson. Could you please tell me what was the most memorable reason of your recent trip to Vietnam?
And a second question goes to Rear Admiral Tynch. This is the first time Vietnam participates in such [inaudible] in the region, so could you just specify what will be the involvement of Vietnam? I mean the planned personnel as well as the number of equipment in the SEACAT. Thank you very much.
Under Secretary Thompson: Thank you, and again, I just want to read it back to make sure what you asked. What was the most memorable experience during my visit to Vietnam.
The history of the U.S. security relationship has grown so rapidly in recent years, and we share a common vision for the future and our partnership. To me, the most memorable portion of that trip was when we landed in Hue and drove for about two hours out to Quang Tri Province and had lunch with the Provincial Governor and his leadership. And then we went out to the village and saw the UXO removal teams being worked with some of our NGO, non-government partners and the people of Vietnam. So as an old soldier, for those of you who don’t know, I served in [inaudible]. I could see the work being done in that village, sitting down with a few of the village elders, if you will, that had served on opposite sides during the war, coming together and seeing all the work that’s been done. For the first year in that village there had been no UXO-related deaths. That’s a telling indicator of the partnership and how far we’ve come in our relationship. Thank you.
Rear Admiral Tynch: Following here from Singapore. As SEACAT has evolved, it’s somewhat of a growing evolution for everyone. This first year for Vietnam, right now I’m very pleased that Vietnam has four liaison officers here, taking place in this first one. Two from the Navy and two from the Coast Guard. So they’re integrated here and working with us, and we’re certainly very glad to have them aboard the process.
Moderator: Thanks so much.
The next question comes from Liputan6 in Indonesia.
Press: Hello. Thank you for your time.
My first question is for the Under Secretary about the Indo-Pacific. [Inaudible] Mike Pompeo said that he wants to have funds to have the Indo-Pacific region. Do you have any details on that? Is it our ongoing right now?
And for the Rear Admiral. And I have a question about how the Indonesian military can participate in the future, and how the U.S. expects them to participate in that training. Thank you.
Under Secretary Thompson: Again, if I could read the question back. I think you asked about the funding for the Indo-Pacific region. And specifically, what monies will be coming to Indonesia.
We’re very excited about Secretary Pompeo’s announcement supporting the administration with the $300-plus million that will be coming for the Indo-Pacific. We’re working through the details of how that will be shared across the region. But really, I’d like to emphasize too, the United States and Indonesia have excellent relations. We have shared democratic values, a common interest. I saw that in person. The work to deepen our strategic partnership, building a strong security relationship, and advancing our shared policy priorities. I had a good discussion with the Foreign Minister, among others.
And building a growing defense partnership, the U.S. and Indonesia, defense cooperation has never been stronger. I oversee foreign military sales within the State Department. We have over $2.3 billion in combined defense trade between our direct commercial sales and our foreign military sales. So again, just a telling indicator of the strength of that partnership. Thank you.
Rear Admiral Tynch: OK, and from my end, from Indonesia, they’re heavily involved in the visit, board, search and seizure event, both on the Navy and the Coast Guard side. They had seven personnel from the Navy and two LNOs working on the visit, board, search and seizure supported by patrol craft. And the same thing for the Indonesian Coast Guard. Seven [inaudible], the VBSS team, there for the workshop in the Philippines to prepare for it. Two LNOs here. And the patrol vessel moving in to support that.
I just returned from a tremendous trip to Indonesia and very much enjoyed meeting with the military leadership there, and am very pleased to see their interest here.
I think this is a good time to get back, each country will have their own individual efforts that they’re working, but it is all nine countries working together here from the information flow to the actual execution of events that really is what makes SEACAT stand out. It’s everyone working together to achieve that maritime domain awareness and help enforce rules-based order. And that is the most important take-away here.
Moderator: Thanks so much.
The next question comes from AFP, Cecil Morella in the Philippines.
Press: Hi, good morning, if I remember right, sir, the Philippine President Duterte has forbidden his military from taking part and join patrols with the United States in international waters. Now here you are talking about certain feature of the ships, both compliant and non-compliant, presumably in international waters. How do you get the Philippine government on board with this exercise?
Rear Admiral Tynch: To make sure I understand the question here, to start with, I will not, for this exercise or other exercises, get into specifics of where these events take place. So that may really help frame your question and may provide the best answer.
Press: Thank you.
Moderator: The next question comes from Zing News.
Press: Hi, my name is Danh, and I’m calling from Zing News in Vietnam.
I would like to have two questions. First, to Ms. Andrea Thompson about the defense cooperation between Vietnam and the U.S. Can you elaborate more on the recent arm deals between Vietnam and the U.S. after the arms embargo was lifted in 2015?
Is there any progress? Is there any arm deals recently between our two countries?
My second question is for Admiral Joey Tynch. It’s about how do you view the importance of the SEACAT exercises in the concept of today’s security, regional security environment? Thank you.
Under Secretary Thompson: Thank you for that question. I’d like to thank your outlet. I had a great interview and an opportunity to meet one of your journalists while in Vietnam. We did an interview on Zing, so good promotion on that one.
For the defense relationship, absolutely. The common vision was articulated between the respective Presidents in November of 2017, and we have moved on to there, amplified by Secretary of Defense Mattis, amplified in July with Secretary Pompeo’s visit. Some key indicators. In March of this year we had the Carl Vinson visit Danang, do a port call. It was the first visit by a U.S. aircraft carrier in more than 40 years.
In the State Department we’ve authorized $25 million in direct commercial sales from calendar year 2012 to 2017. Over $55 million in bilateral State Department funds towards military financing.
And another significant piece you’re probably aware of is the FMS funded Coast Guard cutter that we worked to get together. It was the first major defense transfer between the U.S. and Vietnam. If I’m not mistaken, it’s now the largest vessel in Vietnam’s military inventory.
Again, with foreign military financing, we’ve got $10 million last year, working over other assistance. So a very robust relationship. Again, I look forward to continue to build on that relationship.
Moderator: Rear Admiral?
Rear Admiral Tynch: I will echo the Under Secretary’s words. I believe the relationships that are built during exercises like this, during the current series, during Pacific Partnership, during the maritime training activities, during naval engagement activities, all of those relationships built through that entire mosaic of events is what really does the best for security, stability and helping to ensure prosperity for the region. I think that’s the biggest take-away.
We share a lot of tactics, techniques and procedures amongst the Navies and Coast Guards, how to get things done, but at the end of the day it’s knowing who each one is, each person is you can reach out to that’s the most important.
Moderator: Thanks so much.
We have a question from Bloomberg News.
Press: I think my question might have been answered, but I wanted to ask whether the exercises would be taking place in the [inaudible] Sea, and whether the previous exercises have also been in the same location? And given the nature of how many different countries are operating, whether there was any specific decision not to venture into the South China Sea?
Rear Admiral Tynch: I’ll take that from this end. Again, the lessons and the tactics we’re practicing here apply to any maritime environment. But I won’t speak to the specifics of where any of the at-sea events that have not yet taken place are being planned.
Moderator: Thank you.
One final question from Kylie Atwood of CBS News.
Press: Thank you. This is a question for Rear Admiral.
You mentioned search and seizure activities that you guys will be practicing and carrying out. In regards to North Korea’s attempt to evade UN and U.S. sanctions, and import goods into their country illegally, what are the legalities in terms of what you guys are able to do with search and seizure of ships that you make [inaudible] are carrying out such activities? Thanks.
Moderator: I think that’s a little off topic, but I’ll defer to the Rear Admiral. If we need to follow up separately, we can.
Rear Admiral Tynch: I would prefer to keep the focus on SEACAT here, and what we’re doing. And some of these visit, board, search and seizures are also for things such as piracy, human trafficking. There are a number of events that a visit, board, search and seizure could come into play for.
So I would keep the focus on what we’re getting done in SEACAT vice going that far afield.
Moderator: No problem, we can follow up with you later, Kylie.
With that, that’s all the time we have for our questions today. I do want to give the Under Secretary and the Rear Admiral a moment if they want to make any closing remarks before we wrap up.
Under Secretary Thompson: Yes, thank you, just very briefly. Again, this is my first trip to the region as Under Secretary. I’d been there last year with the Vice President’s visit. But again, I just wanted to thank everyone involved with the visit in all three of those countries. They left a lasting imprint on me and on our team, the professionalism of everyone we engaged. We look forward to the next visit. And thanks for the opportunity tonight.
Moderator: Thank you. Rear Admiral?
Rear Admiral Tynch: Thank you, Mary Beth. I will close very similarly.
Again, the information sharing between all the countries involved is important. The relationships we have developed and continue to evolve is important. But what I have seen and would ask everyone to take back is the young men and women who are involved in this exercise have done tremendous work to get it where it is, and all of the countries should be very proud of what their militaries and their Coast Guards have done to get us where we are for SEACAT. It’s been a tremendous effort and I couldn’t be more pleased, and know we’ll have a safe and successful evolution.
Moderator: Thank you both, and thank you everyone for joining us. Thank you to everyone for participating tonight.