The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) hosted a Mangrove Forum on International Relations with Hon. Daniel R. Russell, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and Hon. David B. Shear, US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs on 20 January 2015 at the Carlos P. Romulo Library, Foreign Service Institute. The two officials were in the country as part of the 5th Philippines-US Bilateral Strategic Dialogue.
During his talk, Assistant Secretary Russell emphasized the longstanding alliance between the US and the Philippines that spans security, trade, investments, development, and people-to-people linkages. He explained how the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) demonstrates the US’ continued commitment to the Philippines’ goal of developing a ‘minimum credible defense posture’. He also noted how the US government has been active in providing humanitarian assistance and recovery for typhoon-hit areas, and in supporting good governance and anti-corruption efforts of the Philippine government.
Assistant Secretary Russell also stressed the US’ support for an inclusive and rules-based regional architecture which he identified as the basis for stability and growth in the Asia Pacific. The US supports the centrality of ASEAN as well as the important role of the East Asia Summit (EAS) as a platform in discussing critical issues affecting the region.
On the South China Sea disputes, Assistant Secretary Russell reiterated that while the US does not take sides, it opposes coercive behavior by any of the claimant parties, and supports the Philippines’ legitimate right to submit the issue to international arbitration.
Assistant Secretary Shear discussed the other defense initiatives of the US under its ‘rebalancing to Asia’ program. Apart from the EDCA with the Philippines, other recent efforts include the renegotiation on the operational control (OPCON) transfer with South Korea, updating of the guidelines of the US-Japan defense treaty, and the Force Posture Agreement with Australia. He also cited the increased engagement of the US in multilateral fora such as the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus).
The two officials also described US relations with China as being complicated, important, and characterized by both cooperation and competition. Assistant Secretary Russell said that despite the strong trade relations, the US cannot ‘turn a blind eye’ to the differences that it has with China on a number of issues. However, the two officials noted that there have also been efforts to build mutual confidence between the US and China, particularly in military-to-military relations and in functional areas such as climate change and global public health.
The Mangrove Forum was attended by officials from the DFA and other government agencies, representatives from the US embassy, and members of the academe.