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Navy Secretary speaks on US maritime partnerships in Asia

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U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus talks about the importance of partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region and need for an adaptable force during remarks at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Oct. 18, 2016.

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Speaking at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus underscored the importance of partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region and need for an adaptable force to meet the rapidly changing security environment around the world.

Mabus began by recognizing William J. Perry, a Stanford emeritus professor and former U.S. secretary of defense, with a Distinguished Public Service Award for his exceptional record of public service and collaboration on alternative energy initiatives, and set the stage for a conversation on innovation in the Navy and Marine Corps.

Throughout his remarks, Mabus highlighted the challenges of preparing for today’s security landscape and offered examples of how the Navy engages them.

The Navy must not be complacent in its ways, he said, especially in a context of eroding trust in multilateral institutions, unpredictable threats, and increasing competition for resources as sea levels rise.

“You’re not going to be able to tell what those next threats are. You never will. But what you can do is make sure that whatever they are you can respond,” he said. “You’ve got to be flexible.”

Mabus, who has led the Navy administration for the past seven years, said four “Ps” – people, platforms, power and partnerships – have guided his approach to improve force capabilities and rapid-response time.

Reviewing his own record as secretary, he cited updates to policies that extend family leave time, boost diversity in the force, and explore alternative energy sources for Navy aircraft and ships, including the earlier launch of the “Great Green Fleet,” a carrier strike group that uses biofuels.

Partnerships in Asia

Implementing the U.S. rebalance to Asia strategy has been a focus of the Navy’s interaction in the region.

“We’re doing it diplomatically, we’re doing it economically, we’re doing it in every region that we as a government are active in,” said Mabus, who formerly served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and governor of Mississippi.

Sixty percent of the United States naval presence is located in the Asia-Pacific region and it is poised toward growth, Mabus said. Three more guided missile destroyers will be stationed in Japan and be "on station when North Korea launches one of its missiles," he said.

“If something does happen, if a crisis does erupt, we’re already there,” Mabus said, emphasizing the importance of force readiness.

Responding to crises effectively, however, requires an awareness and interoperability between many countries, he said. To practice and prepare, around 500 naval exercises occur between the United States and other countries each year, including Malabar, a trilateral exercise between India, Japan and the United States, and the biannual 27-nation Rim of the Pacific “RIMPAC” exercise, which China joined last year.

South China Sea issues

Answering a question from the audience about fortifications being built by China on land features in the South China Sea, Mabus said, “We don’t think any one country should try and change the status quo.”

Mabus reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to both sail and fly over the land features in accordance with international law. The American naval presence in the region has been there for 70 years and will remain steadfast, he said.

He noted the importance of upholding international law and warned of the dangers of setting a precedent of reinterpreting the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea regarding the South China Sea, attempting to do so would have “a really dramatic impact, not just there, but around the world."

A main goal for the U.S. Navy is to continue engagement between China and the United States, he said. The two countries already collaborate on a number of bilateral measures, such as scheduled passing exercises and visits by the navies to each other’s ports of call.

“What we want China to do is to assume the responsibilities of a naval power, to work with us, and to make sure that freedom of navigation is ensured.”

Gi-Wook Shin, a Stanford professor of sociology and director of Shorenstein APARC, concluded the event by thanking Mabus, and recognized the secretary’s friendship with the late Walter H. Shorenstein, after whom the center was named.