First, a very warm greetings to you from Singapore. Senior officers of the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Forces, fellow ASEAN friends and colleagues from the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), as well as, various navies from ASEAN who are here. Today, we also have Singapore ambassador to the United States (US) Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, who just arrived from Washington. It is true that the RSN is hosting this reception, but we should remember whose waters the ship is resting on. So, I personally thank the Americans for allowing us to be here. Congratulations on another successful conduct of the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (Ex RIMPAC).
RIMPAC began in 1971. That period was a turbulent one for ASEAN. The Cold War was on-going, as was the Vietnam War. The fear of the spread of communism was a strong reason for the formation of ASEAN in 1967, with only five countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Coincidentally, in the first RIMPAC only 5 countries participated - US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These two groupings reflected the world then, each responding to past affiliations and present threats. Today, RIMPAC has grown significantly to encompass not only ASEAN member states but beyond. 25 countries, 50 ships and submarines (45 ships, five submarines), 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are involved. Seven of 10 ASEAN countries are here, including Vietnam for the first time. RIMPAC is the world's largest multilateral military maritime exercise. In that context, RIMPAC is a prime example of inclusiveness and multilateralism. This exercise signals the US as a global power working with others to promote common values of freedom of navigation and co-ownership of the global commons.
The RSN has been participating in the exercise since 2008 and has found the exercise useful not only to hone our operational capabilities but as an invaluable opportunity to build trust and forge personal friendships with personnel of other militaries. For this, Singapore thanks the US for organising RIMPAC, and the opportunity for the RSN to build stronger relations with not just the 3rd Fleet but also many other navies.
RIMPAC underscores the outward-looking and inclusive DNA which – US Secretary of Defense James Mattis reminded us at this year's Shangri-La Dialogue – began early under third US President Thomas Jefferson. Even in the 1800s, the US was committed to a presence in the Pacific. The 7th Fleet has helped promote stable conditions in the waters surrounding ASEAN nations. To quote former Indonesian Defence Minister Dr Juwono Sudarsono, it was the US' "forward presence" that provided "vital strategic assurance, guaranteeing regional and financial growth" in the Asia-Pacific.
As 2018 ADMM Chair, Singapore is also heartened by the strong ASEAN participation in RIMPAC. This reflects the strong support that the US enjoys for its military-to-military engagement with ASEAN. And from ASEAN, a recognition of the important and vital role that the US continues to play in our region.
The theme for this year's exercise is very fitting – "Capable, Adaptive, Partners". Indeed, military-to-military exercises build partnerships through collaboration and cooperation to forge mutual understanding and confidence.
As security challenges continue to evolve, this network of partnerships – 25 participating navies right here in Hawaii – builds resilience and stability globally. Let me thank the US INDOPACOM for hosting RIMPAC and wish for this exercise to grow from strength to strength each year.
Thank you. Enjoy the evening.