Emphasizing that economic development and peace and stability are intertwined, Vice President Joe Biden said the goal of the increased U.S. focus and engagement in the Asia-Pacific region is to make it not only more secure, but more prosperous as well, July 18.
Biden spoke to a Center for American Progress forum at George Washington University before leaving next week for economic and strategy discussions in India and Singapore.
The security the United States has provided over the past 60 years "has enabled the region's people to turn their talents and hard work into an economic miracle," Biden said. "Now, we want to hasten the emergence of an Asia-Pacific order that delivers prosperity for all the nations involved."
The U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region reflects the importance of a region that, despite remarkable promise, struggles with uncertainty and risk, the vice president said. "We are focused on the risks of disruption of commerce, proliferation, humanitarian disasters, conflict between nations and the persistent threat caused by North Korea," he told the audience.
Standing up to these challenges, he said, requires strong alliances, institutions and partnerships that tie regional countries together so they work together toward goals that benefit all. They also promote understanding and avenues for countries to peacefully resolve differences, he said.
Toward this end, the United States wants to be a partner in creating "21st-century rules of the road" that would clarify acceptable international behavior, Biden said. Such rules would extend from economic to security issues, benefitting "not only the United States and the region, but the world as a whole," he said.
Recognizing maritime disputes in the South China Sea, Biden urged China and the Association of South East Asian Nations to work more closely toward a code of conduct that establishes universally acceptable standards of international behavior.
"That means no intimidation, no coercion, no aggression and a commitment from all parties to reduce the risk of mistakes and miscalculation," he said. "It is in everyone's interest that there be freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce, respect for international laws and norms and a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes."
Biden also cited broad agreement that North Korea's nuclear missile program "presents a clear and present danger to stability," particularly in East Asia. The United States is working closely with Japan, South Korea, China and Russia to get North Korea to stop these activities, he said.
The vice president also expressed the U.S. willingness to engage directly with North Korea – but only, he emphasized, if agrees to "genuine" negotiations and commits to giving up its nuclear ambitions.
"North Korea can have peace and prosperity like the rest of the region, but only without nuclear weapons," he said. "We are open to engaging with any nation that is prepared to live up to its international obligations."
As the United States expands its engagement in the region, Biden called its long-standing alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand the cornerstones of the strategy. "Across the board, with these alliances, we are at a high-water mark in terms of cooperation between our leaders, both military and political, and the support of our people," he said.
He emphasized, however, that the rebalance does not mean the United States is losing its focus on the Middle East and Europe.
"We are not leaving Europe," he said. "Europe remains the cornerstone of our engagement with the rest of the world. That is a fact. We are not going anywhere.
"As a matter of fact," he continued, "we are absolutely convinced that our engagement in the Pacific is in the overwhelming self-interest of Europe. Europe, just like the United States, will benefit greatly as well from stability in the Pacific."