In this webinar, Dr John Wood shared on the priorities of the US Indo-Pacific Command and answered some burning questions pertaining to security in the region.
REGIONAL STRATEGIC AND POLITICAL STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Tuesday, 27 October 2020 – Dr John Wood, Director (J9), Indo-Pacific Outreach of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) was invited to hold a webinar at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute to discuss the “US Indo-Pacific Command Priorities”. A former Naval Officer and F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot, Dr Wood is currently responsible for USINDOPACOM’s Strategic Public-Private Partnership Outreach, which includes liaising with non-traditional security entities such as academia, think tanks, NGOs and the private sector.
The USINDOPACOM is a geographic combatant command operating in what Dr Wood calls a “region of consequence” and which seeks to preserve regional stability and a free and open Indo-Pacific. Dr Wood outlined the four strategic focus of the INDOPACOM: holding exercises with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific in order to enhance interoperability, increasing joint force lethality through activities such as intelligence-sharing, updating the design and posture of American power projection in the Indo-Pacific from its post-WW2 and Korean War configuration, and strengthening relationships with its friends and partners in the region.
Other than dealing with the threat of terrorism and natural disasters in the Indo-Pacific region, USINDOPACOM is also concerned with the geostrategic challenges posed by North Korea, Russia, and China. In particular, Dr Wood discussed how an emboldened and aggressive China has been seeking to usurp the rules-based order in the region which has been underpinned by the U.S. military for the past 70 years. Chinese actions that were highlighted include China’s border skirmishes with India and Bhutan, its harassment of Vietnamese and Japanese fishing vessels as well as its pursuit of the Blue Sea 2020 initiative, which, under the guise of marine environmental protection, contributes to the militarisation of SCS. However, Dr Wood clarified that the U.S. still keeps communication channels with China open, which includes meeting the Chinese twice a year to discuss activity plans, to ensure that the competition between the two powers remains “safe”.
Citing the ongoing visit of the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense to India and the decision to establish an agreement to share geospatial intelligence, Dr Wood explained that the U.S. is looking to bring India into the Quad, although not necessarily in a formal capacity, but in order to give India a “voice” in the proceedings. He also discussed the possibility of selling arms to India as well as involving them in joint exercises, especially with Japan and Australia. Envisioning the Quad as a “loose organisation”, Dr Wood suggested that the arrangement will eventually be opened to other like-minded friends and partners.
Dr Wood also took the opportunity to reiterate U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s affirmation of the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling in favour of the Philippines, which dismissed China’s broad claims over the SCS. Rejecting China’s nine-dash line, the U.S. instead aims to keep the South China Sea free and open. To that end, Dr Wood said that the U.S. will support a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea that is currently being negotiated between China and ASEAN if it conforms with international law.
In the subsequent Q&A session, Dr Wood addressed topics ranging from the geographic boundaries of the Indo-Pacific, Southeast Asian perceptions of China, the future of U.S. freedom of navigation operations to the potential prospects for the Quad. A total of 101 participants from Singapore and abroad attended the webinar.