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Moderator: Good morning everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub in Manila. I am Zia Syed, the Hub Director, and I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and the United States. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Joey Tynch, III, Commander of the Logistics Group, Western Pacific.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from the Admiral, then we will turn to your questions. We’ll get to as many questions as we can during the time that we have.
Please note that again we have quite a high number of journalists on this call, so we please ask that you limit your questions to just the one question so others are able to participate.
Finally, as a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to Admiral Tynch.
Admiral Tynch: Thank you Zia, and good morning to everyone from Thailand, where just yesterday we opened the first ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise. Now, during the course of this call, I’ll probably refer to it most frequently as AUMX.
My name is Rear Admiral Joey Tynch, and I am Commander of Task Force 73 in Singapore. The reason I’m here with all of you this morning is that my role is to oversee theater security cooperation for the United States Navy in the region. What that really means, plainly, is we focus our efforts to build, maintain, and strengthen positive relationships with partners who share common values. If you leave here today with one idea, it’s that we place great value on our relationships with our friends, our partners, and our allies, and AUMX is the most recent and visible example of how we have, and how we will continue to, invest in these relationships.
So I will move quickly to the question and answer portion, but I would like to share a few ideas to set the scene — I want to begin with recognizing the work that went into planning this exercise, and then briefly touch on the first ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise and why it’s so significant. Then, I’ll finish up with the real significance and how that is seen through the lens of all engagements of the United States with our partners in the region.
First, and I can’t say this loudly enough, I’m very proud of the team that planned this exercise. The emphasis here is on the team of all our partners who were involved. They did an outstanding job. ASEAN sent their best representatives to help plan it, and I especially want to recognize our Royal Thai Navy partners for being wonderful hosts for the opening events and serving as co-leads of AUMX. This entire process has been a true demonstration of their leadership.
The planning team, when they got to work, they used the strong foundation of the relationships we have built over decades of working together to establish common ground.
When we kicked this off, we gave the planners a challenge — that this AUMX was not going to be a symbolic event, that we needed an exercise that would provide value for each of the countries. One that would build capacity as well as relationships. That’s not an easy task for 11 countries working together, and now look where we are. Many of our planners have been working together for almost a year. Working relationships, building lines of communication. They have brought us what we’ve asked for — an exercise that challenges and brings value to each nation participating.
The ASEAN-U.S. exercise is a significant event and a positive step toward building a more networked region. And that’s the key for maintaining stability and security in the maritime domain.
While the United States Navy has been conducting exercises, port visits, and engagements in Southeast Asia for decades, this does represent a step forward. There’s a trend of increased multilateral cooperation, and AUMX is a great example.
The challenges we face in the maritime domain extend beyond what any single nation can handle, and that’s where partners and allies are force multipliers for peace and interoperability. That’s an unparalleled advantage that no competitor or rival can match. I fully believe we are stronger when we sail together.
One of the unique characteristics of AUMX is that we’re exercising a combined task force structure, and this is exactly how navies structure themselves in real world scenarios to work together and best leverage their forces. We really value each others’ perspective and information capabilities.
I’ll say it again, this ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise is a significant event.
And as excited as I am to keep talking about AUMX, I think the significance of AUMX is best understood when you see it, and you see how it fits into a pattern of commitment to building, maintaining, and strengthening relationships with our partners in the region.
Each year, we have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of security cooperation events. And these range from small meetings and workshops, to subject matter expert exchanges on a variety of topics, to large-scale exercises and port visits. The U.S. Navy, along with our partners, have long known the importance and value of working together. During our annual Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief Mission, Pacific Partnership, you would hear us say how important it is to prepare in the calm so we can be able to respond quickly in times of crisis. The same is true here. Working together at sea, using relevant and realistic training, builds interoperability and prepares our navies to work together during times of crisis.
These engagements, they increase our collective abilities, they build trust and confidence, and they open lines of communication that last, truly, for a generation.
This year, we celebrate more than 25 years of maritime training and partnerships with countries in Southeast Asia. The Silver Anniversary of the CARAT series that I have been very proud to take part in this year. 2020 will mark the 15th anniversary of the Pacific Partnership mission I just spoke to, which again is the largest annual humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission in the Indo-Pacific. We just concluded the 18th year of SEACAT with the largest number of participants — 19 countries — ever.
To summarize, our planners did a great job, and that’s a credit to each and every of the ASEAN member states and our Thai and U.S. co-leads.
So AUMX is significant. Its value is greater when you see it, I think, as one more link in a chain of activities that are about our shared commitment with our regional partners.
That’s the point I wanted to make. I appreciate all of your time for being here this morning, and I’m happy to take your questions.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral. We’ll now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation. As mentioned, please try to limit yourself to the one question.
We’ll go ahead and have the first question from Kathrin Hille from the Financial Times [in Taipei].
Question: Thank you. My name is Kathrin Hille from the Financial Times based in Taipei. Admiral, thanks for taking my question. I’m curious, can you explain a little bit more how AUMX ties into difficulties in the South China Sea, as such, as we are seeing right now or have been seeing for weeks now with what’s going on around Vanguard Bank, and with Chinese maritime surveying vessels, their Coast Guard vessels, harassing other claimant’s ships and [inaudible] other claimant states? Is there any kind of real world application in what you are practicing there this week? Thank you.
Rear Admiral Tynch: Kathrin, thank you. I think what I’d like to make clear about AUMX is the focus of it, really, which is to enhance skills that are applicable to maritime security throughout international waters. So, the concept of AUMX this year is to enhance situational awareness and interoperability for all of ASEAN and for the U.S. as well. So, that’s the focus of this, really, on skills that are applicable throughout the world for maritime security.
The exercise is not focused or dedicated against or towards anyone else. It’s to enhance the skills of ASEAN and the U.S. working together.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral. Next we’ll go to JC Gotinga from Rappler [in Manila].
Question: Hello Zia, thank you. Good morning, Admiral. The question is [given the] huge disparity between the naval capability of the United States and individually, the ASEAN states. And of course, the elephant in the room, everyone will agree, is that China is building up its own military might, and the whole thing is sort of a challenge to the United States in terms of influence over this region, and in fact, it postures to dominate the region.
So the question is, what is your size-up given the disparity of [inaudible] enough to make these ASEAN states able to deter any aggressive moves from China if and when eventually that kind of happens. Thank you.
Rear Admiral Tynch: Again, I would say the focus of ASEAN-U.S., like the other exercises we do, really is to enhance the skills I spoke of that are applicable across the spectrum for maritime security.
So, as far as ASEAN-U.S., just like CARAT and SEACAT, the United States and our partners, we learn a lot from each other. We learned a lot during the planning process from our partners. Our staff, as it is working through, is divided up where each country will handle a different position on the staff. We have a Thai who is lead, Admiral Sompong, of AUMX. We have a U.S. Deputy Commander and a Filipino Chief of Staff. So really, the exercise is about building capacity of everyone, learning from each other, and building the relationships for all of us working here together.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral. Next we have Gordon Arthur from Shephard Media [in Hong Kong].
Question: Thank you, Admiral. Can you expand on what’s going on in the South China Sea? What kind of actions are you encountering from the PLA Navy and also the China Coast Guard, talking about things like radio warnings, [inaudible] by warships, et cetera? And also what is the U.S. Navy doing to counter tactics by the Chinese Maritime Militia? Thank you.
Rear Admiral Tynch: Although I do appreciate the question, I would much prefer to focus on this ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise and what we are training on here together, and the significance of this event. Really, that’s my answer there.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral. Next we have Dzirhan Mahadzir from USNI News [in Malaysia].
Question: Thank you, Admiral. Thank you for your time. Could you tell us what’s the roadmap for AUMX? Is it going to be a one-off or will this proceed on in the future? And at the same time, if it is the case, will the exercise be in the same place, or move on to other countries? Thank you.
Rear Admiral Tynch: I think that’s a fascinating question you ask. Right now, I’m focused on safely and professional executing this mission, this time. So as you know, we have eight ships participating, four aircraft, over a thousand sailors, that are taking place right now, as well as three contracted vessels that we’re using to provide realistic training for our visit, board, search and seizure scenarios. So, all our focus right now is on completing this one safely, professionally, learning as much as we can, and then, once the exercise is complete, we’ll take a look at what we have and make decisions moving forward.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral. Next we have John Power from the South China Morning Post [in Hong Kong].
Question: Thank you for taking the question. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said that the United States does not expect ASEAN countries to choose between the U.S. and China. Is that a tenable position as China increasingly exerts its power and influence in the region, and do you think we’re going to come to a point where such choices are more likely, or even inevitable?
Rear Admiral Tynch: I appreciate the question, John, but really that’s the Secretary of State’s lane to discuss that. That’s outside the scope of where we are this morning.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral. If we can go to Akbar Hazan Rizki from Liputan6 [in Jakarta].
Moderator: I’m afraid we cannot hear. I think we’ll have to move on. Sorry, that line was too garbled. If we can next go to Joe Freeman from AFP [in Bangkok].
Question: Good morning, Admiral. Can I ask for a little reasoning behind including Myanmar’s Navy in these exercises, given that the U.S. has sanctioned the head of the armed forces in that country. Do you not see a little contradiction there? Thank you.
Rear Admiral Tynch: Joe, this exercise is ASEAN-U.S. So, it is a multilateral venue — to work with all the members of ASEAN. And to work with those members, on shared maritime security priorities in the region.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral. If we can next go to Danh Le Tanh from Zing News [in Vietnam].
Question: Thank you. Good morning, Admiral. I’d like to ask if you can comment on Vietnam’s participation in the U.S.-ASEAN joint exercise, and what is the meaning for the [inaudible], especially when tensions high in the South China Sea? Thank you.
Rear Admiral Tynch: I apologize, but I think the line was breaking up on me, and I’ll have to ask you to repeat that question again.
Moderator: I can help you out. He was asking if you could comment on Vietnam’s participation in AUMX and also, just as a previous caller asked, about tensions in the South China Sea as a backdrop to the AUMX exercises.
Rear Admiral Tynch: I will speak to Vietnam’s participation. Vietnam has done a tremendous job throughout the planning process, interacting yesterday at the opening ceremonies. They provided a corvette for [inaudible] exercise as well.
But this exercise is about the team. So, we’re proud and happy for member states participating coming through, and again, we’re going to exercise and execute at sea over the next few days, but this has been a year-long process that all these member states have just done tremendous work with the planners and just the tremendous officers they have sent to get us where we are today. And I could not be happier with the participation that we’ve had. Their enthusiasm and their professionalism to get us where we are.
Moderator: Thank you. We’ll next go to Peifen Chou from Up Media [in Taipei].
Question: Thank you. Peifen Chou from Taipei. My question is, this is the first time for U.S. Navy [inaudible] to co-join [inaudible] first exercise with ASEAN countries. Is it possible for the U.S. to hold similar actions in the future with other members of the Indo-Pacific region such as Taiwan or just between Taiwan-U.S. [inaudible] in a similar joint exercise?
Rear Admiral Tynch: If I copy your question right, I would say, back to my opening remarks, we conduct hundreds, if not thousands, of bilateral and multilateral exercises in the region and have done so for decades. The Silver Anniversary, 25 years, of CARAT being, I think, the most noteworthy of this year. And again, the 18th and largest SEACAT ever.
So, there are exercises throughout the region the entire time, and that planning process continues, and will continue, for years to come as we continue to show our commitment to the region.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral. If we can go to Khemara Sok from Voice of America [in Washington DC].
Question: Good morning, Admiral. Thank you for taking my question. I just want to have a quick question about you talking about expansion of cooperation with ASEAN, but we see that China and Cambodia have a secret deal that’s reportedly signed, in the past week – so, does it affect the U.S.-ASEAN security cooperation? The relationship between ASEAN and U.S.? Can you explain about it?
Rear Admiral Tynch: Again, AUMX is this multilateral exercise we have with all ASEAN members. And the work we’re doing now for maritime security with all of ASEAN is what this exercise is about. Shared maritime security is a priority for everyone in ASEAN and that’s really the skill set we’re focused on building here while we’re operating together.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral. We’re going to be wrapping up soon. We’ll just take a few more questions. We’ll next go to Lan Vu from Pho Bolsa TV [in Orange County, California].
Question: Thank you very much for taking my question. This is the first time Vietnam participates in this exercise. Can you tell us what role Vietnam plays in the exercise and in your personal perspective, how important it is to have Vietnam participate in this exercise, especially at the time with the standoff situation between Vietnam and China in the region. Thank you.
Rear Admiral Tynch: Vietnam has been a tremendous partner and a tremendous member of the team as we have moved forward. They have provided a corvette that’s underway as part of Task Group 3, and we have tremendous at-sea plans to conduct for all of us to work on maritime security, shared domain awareness together.
So I’ve been very pleased with their participation. And I would go back and say I was in Phú Yên Province as part of Pacific Partnership 19 this year, and was very impressed with the professionalism of everyone I met in Vietnam as we conducted that exercise. It was just a tremendous event. And they have followed that up with outstanding work here as part of AUMX. Again, part of an outstanding ASEAN team that has got us where we are this morning.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral. We’ll have time for just the one last question. I’m sorry for the others who are still on the line. Our last question will go to John Power from the South China Morning Post [in Hong Kong].
Question: Hi. This is the first AUMX exercise of its kind. Do you have specific plans to make this a regular occurrence? And how often would it be? For instance, will it be an annual event from now on?
Rear Admiral Tynch: John, right now, again, all my focus, all of our focus as a team is towards the safe and professional execution of this year’s AUMX. So, we’re going to work hard together and learn a lot from each other over the next few days, just as we have in the process leading up to now. Then, once the exercise has been safely concluded, we’ll take a look and decide what the way ahead is. So right now, that’s really my answer. We’re focusing on completing what we have right now.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral. We’ll be wrapping up the call. Do you have any final remarks?
Rear Admiral Tynch: First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who dialed in. If I was unable to get to your question, I apologize. I spoke in the opening statement, and I think what I would like to leave with, is that AUMX is significant. Because we need to improve a networked region security cooperation and that’s really what this has been about.
The focus has been to build and maintain and strengthen our relationship with all the ASEAN members and to share our common values. And it is one of just a large number of events that take place in the region. I’ve been here, working here, in security cooperation in Southeast Asia now for over a year. And each time I’ve been able to get out and work with all the ASEAN member states and others throughout Southeast Asia, I have been absolutely impressed with the professionalism of their teams. I enjoy the relationships I’ve built with their leadership. And I look forward to us continuing these decades-long, these decades of historical ties and friendships we have built together to continue working into the future. And I think AUMX is just further evidence of our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and our commitment as we move into the future.
So thanks to everyone for their time. I think we’re here underway now for a significant exercise, and that’s just incredible.
Moderator: Thank you. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Tynch and I also want to thank all of our callers for participating.