Panetta hits out at North Korea, China
Fussa - US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta lashed out at North Korea on Monday for "reckless and provocative" acts and criticised China for a secretive expansion of its military power.
Panetta, who visited the US Yokota Air Base on the second leg of a weeklong Asia tour, spoke out about North Korea and China in an opinion piece published Monday by Japan's Yomiuri newspaper before his arrival.
He wrote that Washington and Tokyo share common challenges in the Asia-Pacific. "These include North Korea, which continues to engage in reckless and provocative behavior and is developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which pose a threat not just to Japan but to the entire region," he wrote.
If any changes are made to US forces in the Pacific, he said, it would be to strengthen their presence.
"We are not anticipating any cutbacks in this region," he told several dozen US and Japanese troops standing in front of huge side-by-side American and Japanese flags. "If anything, we're going to strengthen our presence in the Pacific - and we will."
He offered no examples of such moves. The US now has about 47 000 troops in Japan and about 28 000 in South Korea - remnants of World War II and the Korean War.
Panetta's strong language comes as US and North Korean officials gather in Geneva for talks that Washington says are aimed at determining whether the North is serious about returning to nuclear disarmament talks.
Japan also worries about North Korea and is one of five countries that have jointly tried to persuade it to cap and reverse its nuclear arms programme.
The other four are the US, China, Russia and South Korea.
Panetta also criticised China.
"China is rapidly modernising its military," he wrote in Monday's opinion piece, "but with a troubling lack of transparency, coupled with increasingly assertive activity in the East and South China Seas".
He wrote that Japan and the US would work together to "encourage China to play a responsible role in the international community".
A day earlier, in Bali, Indonesia, Panetta offered more positive remarks about China. He told reporters that Beijing deserved praise for a relatively mild response to a $5.8bn US arms sale to Taiwan announced in September.
Panetta is not visiting China on this trip, his first to Asia since becoming Pentagon chief in July.