Pentagon to shift warships to pacific

2012-06-02 10:01

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Singapore - The Pentagon will shift more Navy warships to the Asia-Pacific region over the next several years, and by 2020, about 60% of the fleet will be assigned there as part of a new strategy to increase US presence in Asia, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Saturday.

While noting it may take years to complete the transition, Panetta assured his audience at a security conference in Singapore that US budget problems and cutbacks would not get in the way of changes.

He said the defence department has money in the five-year budget plan to meet those goals.

Speaking at the annual Shangri-La dialogue conference, Panetta provided some of the first real details of the Pentagon's impending pivot to the Pacific.

"It will take years for these concepts, and many of the investments that I just detailed, but we are making those investment in order that they be fully realised," Panetta said in a speech opening the conference.

Rebalancing


"Make no mistake, in a steady, deliberate and sustainable way, the United States military is rebalancing and is bringing an enhanced capability development to this vital region."

His promises, however, are likely to be met with scepticism from some nations that are aware of the coming budget cuts and have watched the US send the bulk of its military might to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.

The boost in ship presence could increase tensions with China, where leaders have said they are unhappy with any larger US presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

A key area of dispute is the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely as its own. But Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines also have territorial claims there.

The US has pressed for a diplomatic solution to the disagreements but has also made it clear that freedom of navigation is critical in the region.

Panetta acknowledged that some see the increased presence of the US in the region as a direct challenge to China. But he rejected that view, saying that a greater US presence in the Asia-Pacific will benefit China and improve regional security.

The increased US naval presence in the Pacific will allow the US to boost the number and size of the military exercises in the region in the next few years and to plan for more port visits over a wider area, including the Indian Ocean.

Last year, the US military participated in 172 exercises in the region involving 24 counties.
- SAPA
Read more on:    leon panetta  |  us  |  china
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