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Speech by Pål Jonson

Speech by Minister for Defence Pål Jonson at the Shangri-La Dialogue 2023


Singapore, 3rd of June, 2023

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Plenary Session Four (Topic: Asia’s Evolving Maritime Security Order)

Your Excellencies, 
Distinguished Guests, 
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here and address this key forum for Asia-Pacific security, which has grown to be so important over the years. The security of this region is increasingly linked to Euro-Atlantic security, and I am happy to be part of a strong European presence. The importance of a strong strategic dialogue between our two regions cannot be overestimated. 

For Sweden, this is indeed a special and defining time. We are currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union and are on the threshold of becoming a member of NATO.

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The global threat landscape is shaped by increased great power competition and rising tensions both regionally and globally. Basic norms such as rule of law, respect for human rights and free trade are under increasing pressure. The same applies to the rules-based international order established after the Second World War. 

The EU and the Asia-Pacific are closely linked both politically and economically, given the interdependence of the economies and the many common global challenges. 

Trade between Asia-Pacific and Europe is on a global scale second to none. The Asia-Pacific includes four of the EU’s ten largest trading partners. Sweden alone, for example, has more than 300 companies active in Singapore. 

With its important waterways, the Asia-Pacific is of utmost importance for EU trade. These include, of course, the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea.

The mutual dependence between the Euro-Atlantic and the Asia-Pacific areas entails, above all, opportunities. This also means that we have to pay close attention to a broad spectrum of risks, from conflict to supply chain disruptions. 

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The brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Russia’s imperial ambitions to expand its spheres of interest, are closely followed by the countries in the Asia-Pacific. 

The interest-based partnership between China and Russia has a direct impact on our interests and security. Let me stress the obvious: increased Chinese support for Russia’s war efforts would have very negative consequences.

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Earlier today, we heard Secretary Austin outline the important relations between the United States and its allies in the Asia-Pacific. It will make its mark on the security dynamics between the two regions. 

The state of the Asia-Pacific’s evolving maritime security order is a reflection of the global security situation. 

This requires cooperation and unity around defending the rules-based international order. 

The problems we see today are systemic and will be with us for the long haul. But problems can be managed, and they can be mitigated if we act decisively and in concert. The watchwords for that work must be unity, cooperation and long-term perspective.

Upholding the rules-based order is also the key when it comes to the maritime domain. 

I represent a country with an open economy, heavily dependent on trade and connectivity. Hence, Sweden is a firm supporter of the law of the sea and the principle of the freedom of the sea, in particular the freedom of navigation. 

Today, freedom of navigation is being challenged in the Black Sea, in the High North and in the South China Sea to an extent that is unparalleled since the end of the Cold War. 

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS] is a cornerstone of the international rules-based order of the oceans and seas. The Convention provides predictability and a basis for peaceful use of the oceans, maritime security, international cooperation and friendly relations among nations. 

The EU Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS) is currently being updated and is expected to soon be finalised. The strategy will include proposals for joint efforts for the protection of critical infrastructure at sea. Some of the EU’s fundamental interests are focused on ensuring the resilience and protection of critical maritime infrastructure (onshore and offshore).

A number of risks and threats should be addressed. These include the effects of climate change and foreign direct investments. This could be done by promoting information exchange and surveillance of critical maritime infrastructure, including undersea cables, as well as on-ship and port security.

We are all dependent on the marine infrastructure on the seabed. Our houses are heated or cooled by energy from pipelines, our electricity passes through cables on the seabed and our access to internet relies on signal cables on the bottom of the sea. These resources are difficult to protect, not least due to the vast scale of the ocean.

The sabotage of the Nord Stream 1&2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea in 2022 made clear that we need to step up the work to protect infrastructure in the maritime domain. This is of outmost importance but at the same time very difficult. An incident in one country’s maritime domain highly affects other countries, around the globe. 

In the work to increase protection and surveillance of maritime infrastructure, an understanding of all the movements at sea is crucial. For this, an effective Maritime Domain Awareness is key. 

Given the distances, the challenging environment, and the transnational nature of the threats, it is crucial that countries work together to successfully handle maritime security. A good example is the Horn of Africa, where several multinational constellations counter threats at sea, such as piracy. Maritime security has global implications and is not just a matter for neighbouring countries, which is why Sweden has been actively engaged in the EU’s Operation Atalanta in the Horn of Africa since 2009.

Operation Atalanta is imperative in the protection of sea lines of communication, which are important for transporting goods and the protection of the World Food Programme transports. It is a matter of cost-effective, non-duplicating cooperation and the creation of a common understanding of the maritime security landscape. 

Finally, I would like to point out three areas where Sweden and the EU can make a difference to strengthen the ties between the Euro-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific regions. 

First, we must work in concert with the US and Canada and other partners around the globe. Close transatlantic coordination and partnership with likeminded partners in the Asia-Pacific is crucial to our common maritime security. 

That brings me to my second conclusion – the EU and the Asia-Pacific partners face increasingly similar security challenges and threats. It is essential to cooperate and build partnerships. We attach great importance to deepening partnerships in the region for shared security, connectivity and sustainability. The recent successful Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum in Stockholm was a concrete manifestation of this. Regional cooperation formats like ASEAN are crucial.

For the EU and NATO, cooperation with the Asia-Pacific is becoming increasingly important. It concerns, for example, the EU’s strategy for cooperation with the Indo-Pacific. NATO’s cooperation with partner countries in the Asia-Pacific forms an important part of the organisation’s agenda for 2030. These forums of cooperation range from safeguarding the rules-based international order and increased maritime presence to secure trade routes, to addressing hybrid and climate threats.

For a long time, Sweden has contributed to security in the region in a concrete way through our substantial defence cooperations, especially when it comes to underwater capabilities and air defence and sensor systems, with many countries in the Asia-Pacific. In addition, Sweden can offer expertise on total defence, hybrid, disinformation and cyber. Here we believe we have a mutual interest to deepen cooperation with our partners.

Sweden also takes our contribution to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula seriously. This year is the 70th anniversary of the NNSC mission, where Swedish soldiers have served on the border since 1953.

Finally, I would like to highlight a third area: innovation and joint capability-building in the field of defence – where there is great potential for development. Cooperation on emerging and disruptive technologies is key to achieving this.

Many countries in the Asia-Pacific are well advanced in terms of both civil and military technology, and there is much to be gained by working together, but also by building partnerships based on common interests and technology transfer.

To sum up, my message to you is that the security between our regions is increasingly interlinked and we must deepen our partnership.

Thank you!