U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hosted defense ministers from 10 ASEAN members last week. The informal meeting in Hawaii was the first of its kind, and it came at a time when the United States is trying to build the partnerships necessary for its Asia rebalance strategy.
Ian Storey of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore explains in an email that while ASEAN defense ministers have previously met with their U.S. and Chinese counterparts, last week’s meeting was “the first time they have done so outside the region.” A meeting between ASEAN defense ministers and the Chinese defense minister is also likely in the near future, he says, as ASEAN states seek to “balance” their relations with the United States and China.
According to Patrick Cronin of the Center for a New American Security, the meeting “demonstrated a mutual desire for the United States to remain actively engaged in regional security,” including through information-sharing and common practices for dealing with natural disasters and other contingencies. It enabled Hagel to have “broad-based discussions” with his Southeast Asian counterparts and to “encourage them to keep building ASEAN’s capacity as a regional institution,” Cronin says.