Defence ministers from the United States and China meet key Asian counterparts on Tuesday for the highest-level security talks ever held in a region where tensions are rising over Beijing's assertiveness.
The meeting will be the first-ever between the 10 ASEAN defence ministers and eight regional partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the US. ASEAN members proposed that the forum focus on counter-terrorism, disaster relief, maritime security, military medicine and peacekeeping. "Its utility will be called into question if it doesn't address some of the hard security issues in Asia-Pacific, like the Korean peninsula, like the South China Sea," said Ian Storey, a regional security analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
The Chinese military broke off contacts in January after the Pentagon announced plans to sell more than $6 billion worth of arms to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade territory.
Even as he sought to improve those ties, Gates repeated the Obama administration's contention that Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations should band together to negotiate with China to hash out their competing claims over the waters and small islands of the South China Sea.That point of view is a source of irritation to China, which has been trying to assert its sovereignty in the oil-and-gas-rich region.
In response to a question from a student, Gates said, "I think all Asia can be confident that the United States intends to remain engaged in Asia as we have been for so many scores of years before, and that we intend to be an active participant not only in economic and political matters, but also in defense and security matters."
Asia, US defence officials in first talks amid China tension [Channel NewsAsia, 12 October 2010]
U.S. Defense chief meets with Chinese counterpart [latimes, 12 October 2010]