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The head of the United States' powerful Pacific Fleet has stressed the importance of military alliances for the preservation of regional security, just a day after U.S President Donald Trump sowed fresh doubt on his commitment to allies by abandoning a key partner in the war on terror.
A week after China put on a show of its military might, Admiral John Aquilino used an appearance to a naval conference in Sydney to send a reassuring message about the ongoing U.S role in the Indo-Pacific.
“For all the nations, particularly here in the South Pacific, we all remain committed to the constellation of allies and partners that has been and remains the surest guarantor of national sovereignty, security and prosperity," he told the conference.
“We truly all are stronger together.”
Speaking afterwards to The Australian Financial Review, Admiral Aquilino hailed the growing co-operation between the region's militaries.
“It's always beneficial [that] like-minded nations with common values are interoperable,” he said.
“Sometimes that's with similar equipment. Many times it is with different equipment. The real key is that we can talk and communicate both safely and effectively together.”
Admiral Aquilino appeared on a panel with senior commanders from the French, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese and Fijian navies.
As Australia seeks closer ties with Pacific Islands as part of its “Pacific step-up”, Fiji's chief of navy Humphrey Tawake said the impact of China's Belt and Road Initiative could be seen across most islands through construction of new infrastructure.
He said China's initiative and the Quad partnership between Australia, the U.S, Japan and India would influence the region through their respective programs.
“Each sovereign small island state will determine its own requirements to cater for its national security needs and infrastructure development,” he said.
In her speech to the conference, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds confirmed a review of the 2016 defence white paper's strategic underpinnings was underway because of the rapidly changing environment.
Admiral Aquilino's speech came after Trump caused shockwaves by announcing the withdrawal of U.S troops from northern Syria, effectively removing a protective shield around Kurdish forces who had been allies in the fight against the Islamic State terror group.
Trump's move paves the way for Turkey to launch an offensive against the Kurds, although following a backlash Trump warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of consequences if he did so.
Admiral Aquilino's address comes as the U.S and China are locked in a fierce competition over trade and strategic influence.
To mark the 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule, China showcased its latest military hardware during a three-hour parade in Beijing last week, with analysts noting that missiles and bombers supposedly capable of targeting warships and U.S bases featured heavily.
Asked by the Financial Review for his thoughts on what the focus on missile technology means for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, Admiral Aquilino said it was clear the region was becoming more contested.
“We've certainly seen an increase in capability and capacity, as would be expected, so certainly not a surprise,” he said.
“The adherence to international law is critical. Adhering to the global commons and the fact that the maritime is there for all nations, I think that would be a great way forward. We should all operate safely together.”
In his presentation to the conference, Admiral Aquilino noted how nations large and small had benefited from a free and open Indo-Pacific in the 75 years since the end of World War II.
“Before this period of extended prosperity, nations from America to the south-west Pacific Islands had suffered belligerence, uncertainty and at times paid with their lives,” he said.
“The lesson was clear: no single nation who calls the Pacific Ocean can or should dictate terms to others in the regions,” Admiral Aquilino said.
SOURCE: FINANCIAL REVIEW/PACNEWS
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