US Defense Secretary Mark Esper is scheduled to visit four countries in the Indo-Pacific region next week, which the Pentagon has identified as “a priority theatre”.
“Next Wednesday (November 13) Secretary Esper will depart on a trip to our priority theatre, the Indo-Pacific,” Pentagon Press Secretary Jonathan Hoffman told reporters at a news conference here on Thursday.
Esper will travel to Seoul, Bangkok, Manila, and Hanoi, where he will participate in the ASEAN Defense Ministers meeting and meet with allies and partners in the region who share America”s vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, he said.
“We will discuss common challenges such as the militarisation of the South China Sea and predatory Chinese commercial and economic activities,” Hoffman said.
The trip is a reflection of the department”s focus on its concerns with Chinese efforts to undermine the rules-based international order in the region, the Pentagon Press Secretary said.
In South Korea, Esper will attend the 51st USSouth Korea Security Consultative Meeting where he will meet with his counterpart and other senior South Korean officials to discuss the alliance and reaffirm our commitment to enhancing their bilateral defense cooperation to address issues of mutual importance to the security and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the Indo-Pacific region.
Esper will visit Thailand next where he will participate in the ASEAN Defense Ministers” Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus).
The ADMM-Plus is the most effective platform for practical cooperation among the participating countries” defense establishments and the premier venue for senior leaders to discuss regional defense issues, the Pentagon said.
During his stay, Esper will meet key leaders to strengthen defense relationships in Thailand.
In the Philippines, Esper will meet with his Philippine counterpart to advance the alliance as well as strengthen regional security cooperation to uphold international rules and norms.
Esper will also lay a wreath and pay respects to fallen US service members buried at the Manila American Cemetery.
In Vietnam, Esper will meet with his counterpart and other key leaders to discuss the regional security environment and ways to enhance the growing defense relationship, the Pentagon said.