U.S. Department of State
96/05/30 Winston Lord: Southeast Asia Regional Security Issues--
Opportunities for Peace, Stability, and Prosperity
Released by the Bureau of Public Affairs
June 11, 1996
Statement of Ambassador Winston Lord, Assistant Secretary of
State, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, before the House
International Relations Committee, Asia and Pacific Subcommittee.
Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of this Committee, I am very pleased to come before you today to discuss regional security issues in Southeast Asia. I commend you once again for holding a hearing on issues that deserve thoughtful exploration and debate. On many previous occasions, we have met to address our interests and concerns in other parts of Asia: China, Japan and the Korean peninsula, for example. At many of those sessions the focus of our discussion has been not so much on opportunities as on the problems we face and the ways you and we, working together, might try to solve them.
Such was the case during the 1960s and 1970s when there were many such hearings on the painful challenges posed by the conflict in Southeast Asia. Back then, few could imagine, let alone focus on, the great promise and potential the region could achieve in just a few decades. That we have not had frequent sessions on the situation in Southeast Asia during the 1990s is not a sign of neglect, but a tribute to the profound, positive changes that have occurred in the region. Indeed, I can think of no part of the world that has come so far so fast, not just in terms of security, but in terms of economic and political development. Where in the past we saw tension and conflict, we now see cooperation and a real sense of community.
Without returning to the debate over the Vietnam War, I think we can find some solace--amidst the pain--in our involvement in that war by recalling the shield we provided for the nations of Southeast Asia.
Just last month, Foreign Minister Jayakumar of Singapore delivered an excellent lecture at Georgetown University on this very topic. In his remarks, the Minister argued that America's sacrifice in Indochina bought valuable time for the non-communist countries in Southeast Asia to put their economic houses in order, providing breathing space which laid the foundation for the rapid economic growth we see there today. He concluded that America's forward military presence is essential for Southeast Asia's continued stability and prosperity. Through continued strategic, military, and economic engagement in Southeast Asia our people can now benefit from the sacrifice we made in Vietnam decades ago. As Foreign Minister Jayakumar said: "...the United States remains an indispensable factor of any new configuration for peace, security and economic growth in the Asia-Pacific. Only the United States has the strategic weight, economic strength and political clout to hold the ring in the Asia-Pacific." I have here a copy of Foreign Minister Jayakumar's speech, and I ask that it be entered in the record.
Relations with Southeast Asian Countries
The countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been at the heart of the remarkable progress of the last several decades. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand decided to put aside their differences in 1967 when they issued the Bangkok declaration, a truly visionary step designed to promote the goals of political and economic cooperation in the tumultuous and threatening environment of the Vietnam war. Since then, the countries of ASEAN have succeeded splendidly in realizing their goals. Just as the creation of the European Union served to dampen the historical enmities in Europe and forge fresh cooperation, the growth of ASEAN has had a similar effect in the Southeast Asia region. The ASEAN nations have not only become the model for regional integration and cooperation, but they have helped to pave the way for other visionary initiatives such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA).
ASEAN, formed at a time of conflict in Vietnam, came full circle in 1995 when it welcomed Vietnam as a member. Both Cambodia and Laos are scheduled to join ASEAN during the coming year. Burma could become a member by the turn of the century.
The United States and Vietnam also entered a new phase of relations with the normalization of diplomatic relations on July 11, 1995. This progress in relations with Vietnam has above all reflected and encouraged its cooperation on our highest priority issue--the fullest possible accounting for our MIAs. It also promotes our regional security and economic interests.
Security is essential to the creation of a peaceful and prosperous Southeast Asian region, and the United States continues to do its part. We have special relationships with two of the ASEAN countries -- the Philippines and Thailand are treaty allies. Other ASEAN nations in recent years have also provided access to compensate for the loss of Philippine bases and to keep the U.S. engaged in the region. Singapore, which receives 80-90 U.S. navy visits a year and hosts periodic stationing of U.S. airforce contingents, is a key part of USCINCPAC's "swing" strategy between Northeast Asia and the Middle East. Similarly, since 1992 our naval vessels get periodic repairs in Indonesia. Malaysia also makes available commercial repair facilities for U.S. ships and aircraft. Brunei and the U.S. conduct periodic joint training under our recently concluded Memorandum of Cooperation.
Through our participation in the ASEAN Regional Forum we hope to promote stable relationships throughout Southeast Asia. The ASEAN Regional Forum is a young organization. Its inaugural meeting was held only in 1994. But it is clear that the organization can play a key role over the years ahead in promoting peace and security through confidence-building measures, enhancement of transparency, and other forms of cooperation.
We believe that a strong U.S. security presence is essential for the continued stability and prosperity of the region. Our 100,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines deployed in Asia underscore our commitment to the region. This presence is warmly and widely welcomed by the nations of the region as serving stability and signaling U.S. engagement. Although the post-Cold War era has left the region largely free of conflict, and many age-old rivalries stemming from the colonial era and even before have passed into history, there will always be a concern that today's peace and prosperity, if not carefully nurtured, could slip away. We have all welcomed the dynamic growth of the region, but this growth, stimulated by competition, can lead to new tensions. Development has put pressure on the environment. Narcotics is a major concern. By cooperating with our Southeast Asian friends, we can ensure that the peace and development of today is not undermined in the years ahead.
I realize the focus of our session today is on security issues, but we should not let pass the opportunity to mention the region's economic security as well. With the peace of the past twenty years has come prosperity. And continued prosperity--as well as the growing economic interdependence of the region--contributes to security.
The ASEAN nations form one of the most dynamic regional markets in the world. GDP for ASEAN's 400 million people exceeds $500 billion, and the GDP has grown by an average 7 percent annually for the past six years. ASEAN, as a whole, is our fourth largest trading partner. Two-way trade is approaching $100 billion. U.S. investment in the region already exceeds $20 billion. And both trade and investment are increasing sharply. We are committed to working with ASEAN and the other countries of Southeast Asia to ensure that this trade is free and fair, and that their markets remain open to American business. These growing economic ties promote prosperity and economic security, not only in Southeast Asia but here at home as well.
Recent events have focused particular attention on two Southeast Asian nations which aspire to eventual ASEAN membership. The situation in Burma over the past week has significantly altered the country's political dynamics. Aung San Suu Kyi, despite intimidation by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), successfully and defiantly hosted a convention by her party, the National League for Democracy; addressed a crowd of 10,000 supporters; and called for genuine dialogue with the military junta. We were encouraged that Aung San Suu Kyi was able to hold her party congress. However, the SLORC continues to detain more than 250 NLD supporters, and there are unconfirmed reports it may bring charges against some of those detained. We deplore these detentions and call on the SLORC to immediately and unconditionally release all of those who have been detained. The United States has made the strongest possible representations to the Burmese authorities in Rangoon and Washington.
Our objective is to do what we can to inhibit the SLORC from increasing the oppression -- including a resort to violence -- and promote movement toward a direct dialogue between the SLORC and the NLD aimed at national political reconciliation and democratization. Further to this end, we are consulting closely with other interested nations on steps to take to press the regime to release the detainees and enter a dialogue. We will continue to make it clear to the military regime that it will not gain international legitimacy until it starts talking to the legitimate representatives of the Burmese people.
The United States supports efforts in Cambodia to build democratic institutions, promote human rights, and foster economic development. We are concerned about recent political developments in Cambodia, particularly indications that political intolerance may be growing. Administration officials have made several visits to Phnom Penh since late last year to express our concerns candidly with Cambodian leaders, and we continue to follow the situation closely. Most recently, we promptly condemned the killing of newspaper editor Thun Bunly on May 18, expressed our concern both in Phnom Penh and Washington, and have urged Cambodian authorities to find and punish those responsible.
We are also concerned that political disagreement between FUNCINPEC and the CPP over power sharing and other issues, if not properly handled, could adversely affect Cambodia's stability. We continue to urge all sides to make a concerted effort to work out their differences peacefully in accordance with the laws and constitution.
Together with our concerns, it is important to remember that Cambodia has come a long, long way in the past few years. The country has suffered through decades of turmoil, slaughter and civil war that devastated its infrastructure and traumatized its population. The Cambodian people have already traveled a great distance from this dark past. Politically motivated violence, while not completely eliminated, has dropped sharply, Khmer Rouge strength is being steadily reduced, and thousands of refugees have returned to their homes. Perhaps most important, Cambodians chose their government in a free and fair election in 1993. We must maintain a balanced perspective while we work with the Cambodians on overcoming the many obstacles ahead. In pursuit of our goals, the U.S. Government provided $40 million in assistance for Cambodia in 1995, and we anticipate that 1996 levels will be close to $30 million. U.S. assistance has had an immediate and visible impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, and has been vital in advancing U.S. interests in democratization, rehabilitation of the country, and preventing the return to power of the Khmer Rouge.
ASEAN Regional Forum
The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which was first proposed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1993, currently is the only region-wide, governmental-level, multilateral security dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region. Current membership includes the seven ASEAN nations (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) plus the U.S., Australia, Cambodia, Canada, the PRC, the EU, Japan, South Korea, Laos, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Russia. India and Burma are expected to join at the ARF Ministerial Meeting in Jakarta in July which Secretary Christopher will attend.
U.S. engagement in regional security dialogues in the Asia- Pacific, including the ARF, has been encouraged by this Administration. Previously the U.S. had been cautious about regional security dialogues, because it feared our engagement in them would be construed as a mask for our withdrawal from a leadership role in regional security. This Administration decided that active U.S. support for such dialogues could enhance, not weaken, our security leadership, as long as it was coupled with a renewed commitment to our forward military presence and strengthening of our bilateral alliances. We see ARF as something that complements, not supplants, our bilateral relationships in Southeast Asia. We will maintain these bilateral alliances while monitoring what we hope will be the continued strengthening of the ARF process. We will neither lose sight of ARF's security dialogue potential; nor will we prematurely inflate its progress.
The ARF Concept Paper agreed to in 1995 sets forth the purpose and potential of the ARF. While no timelines were established, the Paper envisages ARF evolving through three stages of security cooperation: confidence building, preventive diplomacy and elaboration of approaches to conflicts. Despite caution on the part of some members that the organization is evolving too quickly, the ARF has begun to move incrementally to ease tensions, reduce suspicions, and cultivate consultation habits. Working with others we will seek to promote these habits of consultation and dialogue in a region generally unaccustomed to such open exchanges.
Since the first ARF Ministerial Meeting in 1994, ARF's disparate members have become increasingly comfortable discussing relatively controversial subjects--such as nuclear testing, the situation in North Korea and conflicting claims in the South China Sea--in plenary sessions. There is still a way to go, however, for ARF discussions to evolve from set pieces to more genuine give and take. Nonetheless, when one looks at the extremely diverse composition of the forum, it has already come a substantial distance in only two years. With deliberate encouragement and support from its major players, ARF can develop over time into a useful forum for preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution.
The ARF's potential for defusing regional tensions was shown last year when it helped to lower the heightened tensions caused by a series of incidents in the South China Sea. ASEAN issued a joint statement in March, 1995, which called for peaceful resolution of the territorial claims in the South China Seas. This was followed in May by the strong -- and warmly welcomed -- US statement of official policy on the Spratlys/ South China Sea. These statements, along with ASEAN's determination to ensure discussion of the issue at ARF senior officials and ministerial meetings, resulted in a freeze on activities in the area and a fresh emphasis on diplomacy. One positive result was a constructive statement by Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen at the August 1995 ARF indicating that Beijing would seek to resolve the Spratlys/South China Sea dispute peacefully based on principles embodied in the Law of the Sea Convention. The ARF discussion of this issue was seen by countries of the region as making an important contribution to reducing tensions in the South China Sea.
In the past year ARF has fleshed out its first goal of confidence building by sponsoring a series of working groups and meetings on confidence building, peacekeeping operations and search and rescue. Each of these meetings is co-hosted by an ASEAN and a non-ASEAN member; the U.S. and Singapore are co-hosts of the ongoing search and rescue meeting. The first session took place in March in Honolulu, and there will be a second meeting in early 1997 in Singapore. A fourth working group on disaster relief coordination will be established in July, pending ministerial approval.
I headed the U.S. delegation to the most recent ARF-related meeting, that of Senior Officials, held in Yogjakarta May 10 and 11 to prepare for the July Ministerial Meeting. The lively and productive May meeting presages a productive Ministerial. Although we are still shaping our positions with respect to the upcoming ministerial, priority topics for the U.S. are likely to include support for a full range of initiatives associated with nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and transparency of conventional arms transfers, ARF encouragement of Korean peninsula initiatives such as the Four Party Peace Talks and KEDO, and a wide ranging, mutually productive exchange of views on other regional security issues. We will also support the ongoing work in various confidence building areas.
Regional Arms Sales
The USG arms transfer policy for the ASEAN region follows the guidelines established in the U.S. Policy on Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT), signed by the President on February 10, 1995. This policy serves five goals:
-- Ensuring that our military forces can continue to enjoy technological advantage over potential adversaries;
-- Helping allies and friends deter or defend themselves against aggression while promoting interoperability with U.S. forces when combined operations are required;
-- Preserving regional balances of military forces while preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
-- Promoting peaceful conflict resolution and arms control, regional stability, human rights, and other foreign policy objectives;
-- Enhancing the ability of the US defense industrial base to meet US defense requirements and maintain long-term military technological superiority at lower costs.
The principal factors driving Southeast Asian arms enhancements in recent years have been increased financial resources from robust economic growth; ongoing requirements to modernize obsolete systems, principally aircraft; a partial switch in defense doctrine from counterinsurgency to conventional military operations; a requirement to protect extended economic zones and claims in the Spratly islands; and a desire to strengthen defense self-reliance.
ASEAN governments perceive little prospect of inter-ASEAN armed conflict. This in part explains the absence of a region-wide arms race. Within ASEAN, countries' acquisition of advanced weaponry typically has involved small numbers of systems, taking into account cost, personnel and infrastructure constraints. The ASEAN countries themselves have recognized that their defense procurement generally serve to modernize forces and replace outmoded equipment, though in the process a number of them are adding significant new force-projection capabilities.
Long-standing U.S. policy has been to treat ASEAN members as equal in terms of our willingness to supply high-technology weaponry. Approval of a weapons system for one ASEAN country has generally meant approval for all--subject, of course, to a recipient's ability to finance, operate, and integrate a given system, as well as to our policy against being the first to introduce a new technology into a region. Where there have been special concerns -- for example, over human rights in Indonesia -- we have adjusted this policy without abandoning it. Since the U.S. has long been the region's preferred arms supplier, this policy has helped to ensure a regional arms balance.
International Military Educational Training (IMET) has been and continues to be a valuable component of U.S. foreign policy and in furthering peace, stability, and respect for human rights in the region. IMET training emphasizes the importance of civilian control of the military, military justice, and respect for international human rights standards. IMET supports U.S. objectives of promoting reforms and strengthening professionalism in Asian armed forces, making them institutions capable of protecting sovereignty while respecting civilian authority and citizens' human rights. IMET focuses on training military personnel about respecting human rights and implementing accountable military justice by exposing them to our own professional military personnel and procedures, which function under civilian control.
As ASEAN expands, our arms-transfer policy must obviously reflect that Vietnam remains a proscribed country under U.S. arms export control laws and therefore is ineligible to purchase U.S. origin- defense equipment. In Burma, as long as the current despotic military regime continues, that country will be prohibited from purchasing US arms.
A major benefit of our arms transfers to the region has been to sustain and expand U.S. military capability in the region through enhanced interoperability and joint exercises. In addition, several of the ASEAN countries were helpful during the Gulf War in 1990-91 in allowing the movement of U.S. forces through the ASEAN region on their way to the Middle East. Many of these countries are also making significant contributions to international peacekeeping.
The U.S. Government plays a limited role in promoting sales to the ASEAN region. ASEAN governments and arms producing companies typically discuss a potential sale first, and then approach the USG for approval. Only if a particular requested system meets the criteria for transfer and other producing countries enter the competition do the USG and its embassy personnel become involved in advocacy.
South China Sea Territorial Issues
The Spratly Islands and surrounding South China Sea are the object of competing territorial claims among Brunei, the PRC, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. As I have already noted, some modest, but positive, diplomatic efforts by these countries in 1995 eased tensions between China and the Philippines. A unified ASEAN approach on the Spratlys in April 1995 meetings with China, discussion of the South China Sea situation at the August 1995 ASEAN Regional Forum, and separate, more intense, bilaterals among the Philippines, China and Vietnam have all contributed to this modest improvement. Our own May 1995 public statement on the South China Sea was also welcomed by ASEAN as making an important contribution to diplomatic efforts to ease tensions.
Maintaining freedom of navigation is a fundamental U.S. interest. Unhindered navigation by all ships and aircraft in the South China Sea is essential for the peace and prosperity of the entire Asia- Pacific region, including the U.S. We appreciate the efforts of all claimants that have reiterated their support for the principle of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
The U.S. is concerned that unilateral actions and reactions in the South China Sea might increase tensions in the region. We strongly oppose the use or threat of force to resolve competing claims and urge all claimants to exercise restraint and to avoid destabilizing actions. Our May 1995 statement calls upon all claimants to intensify diplomatic efforts to address issues related to competing claims, taking into account the interests of all parties. It also expresses our opposition to any maritime claim inconsistent with the 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention. We welcome any diplomatic initiatives which support mutual restraint by all claimants and ease tensions in the South China Sea. We reiterate our willingness to assist in any way the claimants deem helpful. I would like to submit the full text of this statement for the record.
Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone
The U.S. has stated on several occasions that it is prepared to consider positively a Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty, provided it conforms to our long-standing criteria for supporting nuclear weapon free zones. The fact that the U.S. has recently signed the Protocols to the treaties establishing the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (SPNFZ) and the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone is proof of our willingness to support nuclear weapon free zones when they are designed in accordance with our long-standing criteria.
The United States, however, has significant concerns with the current text of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty signed in Bangkok, December 15, 1995 and its accompanying protocol. We have made these concerns known to the Southeast Asian states on numerous occasions. These concerns are also shared by the other four internationally recognized nuclear weapon states.
One of the most significant issues preventing us from supporting the treaty at this point is the inclusion of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ's) and continental shelves in the zone, which raises questions about the consistency of the treaty with high seas freedoms and other principles embodied in UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. Furthermore, continental shelves and EEZ's have never been clearly delimited in the South China Sea, which creates uncertainty over the scope of treaty and protocol obligations and could be a source of conflict due to competing territorial claims in the region.
The U.S. has other concerns with the treaty and protocol including the precise nature of the legally binding negative security assurances from protocol parties; ambiguity of language concerning the permissibility of port calls by ships which may carry nuclear weapons; and the procedural rights of protocol parties to be represented before the various executive bodies set up by the treaty to ensure its implementation.
We have indicated our willingness to continue consultations with ASEAN to try to resolve our remaining concerns and such consultations have taken place and are expected to continue. The U.S. will also consult with the other nuclear weapons states, who share our legitimate security concerns. The Administration cannot predict when or if agreement can be reached with the Southeast Asian states on a solution that would permit the U.S. to consider signing the SEANWFZ protocol.
In sum, the U.S. has been working quietly, but effectively, to build relationships with the Southeast Asian countries that reflect the new opportunities created by a post-Cold War security environment and Southeast Asia's own dynamic economic and political growth.
I have described today the key elements of those relationships-- our alliances; our forward military presence; a "places, not bases" strategy that provides our military with access arrangements and operational cooperation;practical support through IMET and foreign military sales that enhances Southeast Asian military cooperation with the U.S. consistent with our global conventional arms transfer policy; new and expanded multilateral cooperation through the ASEAN and ARF processes that complement our bilateral relationships; and U.S. support for the efforts of the nations in the region to address potential regional trouble spots such as the South China Sea.
Mr. Chairman, we believe that cumulatively these policies are promoting a more stable and mature relationship with Southeast Asia that serves U.S. interests and enhances regional security.
Return to the Electronic Research Collection Geographic Bureaus Home Page
Visit the Electronic Research Collection Home Page
Go to the U.S. State Department Home Page
To top of page