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US Indo Pacific Command chief says collaboration key to keeping region free and open

HALIFAX — The head of the U.S.

HALIFAX — The head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is calling for greater collaboration between allies and partners to strive for a free and open Indo-Pacific as increasingly bold military actions from neighbouring countries stoke tensions in the region.

U.S. Adm. John C. Aquilino's comments came on Saturday during the annual Halifax International Security Forum. He said international norms and values, like mutual respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and human rights, have allowed the Indo-Pacific region to prosper and grow into an economic and military powerhouse.

But "revisionist, autocratic powers" are increasingly seeking to disrupt that rules-based order "in ways that benefit themselves at the expensive of all others," he said.

"Coercion, intimidation — those are the tools they use to achieve their objectives," Aquilino said as he addressed the gathering of largely government, military and diplomatic officials. "They use the theme of might equals rights to justify their actions."

Aquilino did not specifically name any countries during his remarks. But he cited one recent incident in which Chinese coast guard ships block and spray water at two Philippine boats carrying supplies to a disputed South China Sea shoal.

"This assault on the rules-based international order should be concerning for all of us," he said. "This is the defining security landscape of the 21st century and how we deal with this will matter."

Co-operation between allies and partners in the region is critical to demonstrating an ongoing commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, Aquilino said.

He pointed to a recent joint naval exercise off the Japanese island of Okinawa and a recent move by Canada and the U.S. to send military warships through the Taiwan Strait.

"These activities provide clear, visible evidence that we will not accept anything except a free and open Indo-Pacific," Aquilino told attendees at the forum. "This collaboration proves what an be achieved when allies and partners work together."

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Indo-Pacific nations and their allies must fight to uphold the rule of law.

"We want an Indo-Pacific where the strong cannot do as they will and the weak do not suffer," he said during a plenary called #StandTogetherOnChina.

"We want an Indo-Pacific where every nation, big or small, is able to pursue its destiny and its ambitions while respecting the rights of others."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2021.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press