The United States' Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, unveiled detailed plans to strengthen the U.S.'s military presence in the Asia-Pacific region at the 11th IISS Asia Security Summit, otherwise known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, held in Singapore over the weekend.
The announcement came as Mr. Panetta outlined the U.S.'s new military strategy designed to strengthen ties through traditional alliances such as with Japan, South Korea and Australia and also through partnerships with countries like Indonesia and India in a much anticipated speech on Saturday.
Under the plan, the U.S. will shift 60% of its warships to the Pacific by 2020 with Singapore playing a significant role by agreeing in principle to allow the U.S. to forward deploy up to four combat ships to Singapore on a rotational basis. Currently, the U.S. Navy fleet is evenly spilt between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
In his speech Mr. Panetta said that “The United States will play a deeper and more enduring partnership role in advancing security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region.”
The announcement has sent the clearest signal yet that the rebalancing of U.S. strategic focus is real, commented Chris Johnson, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The 60-40 number has been very carefully thought out,” he said. “It doesn't represent a massive swing, but it does make a statement.”
The new U.S. policy comes amid growing tensions between China and the Philippines as both seek to assert their claim over the gas-rich Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. It is not yet known whether the growing U.S. presence in the area will be a positive force for the peace, development and prosperity of Asia, or simply heighten the tensions in the region.
Although Panetta was adamant to dispel the notion that the shift in U.S. focus to the Asia-Pacific is part of an effort to contain China's emergence as a global power, China reacted to the announcement saying that the U.S. shift must be watched closely.
Simon Tay, Chairman of SIIA, commented on the developments saying “The US announcement to deploy more of its warships in the Asia-Pacific will be watched by Beijing. This is especially where they visit places beyond the existing ports of call. But more than watching the US military, China needs to address the broader views about its role and approaches amongst fellow Asiansand reduce suspicion and anxiety. US defence secretary Panetta's visit to Vietnam and Cam Ranh Bay exemplifies these issues vividly."
Following the U.S.'s announcement China also mentioned that it would improve the capability of its forces and has the capacity to “strike back” when “fundamental interests” are under threat.
Despite this, Panetta said he was committed to building a “healthy, stable, reliable and continuous” military-to-military relationship with China.
Report: U.S. Plans Naval Shift Toward Asia (Wall Street Journal, June 2 2012)
Report: S'pore to host 4 US littoral combat ships (TODAY, June 3 2012)
Report: Shangri-La Dialogue: Panetta says more U.S. warships in Asia-Pacific under new strategy (Asahi Shimbun, June 2 2012)
Report: US shift "must be watched closely" (CNTV, June 4 2012)
Report: News Analysis: For good or bad, US military buildup joins Asia’s arms race (Jakarta Post, June 4 2012)