Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has joined his Asian counterparts in Singapore for a defense conference, beginning Friday, that will include discussions on the war on terrorism and safeguarding a region with some of the world's most important maritime shipping routes.
Secretary Rumsfeld will meet with key Asian counterparts, including those from Japan, Australia, and South Korea, and address a conference here on regional defense and security issues.
A key subject is expected to be maritime security. One of the world's busiest shipping routes is the Malacca Straits, a narrow passage between Indonesia and Malaysia that is a vital sea-lane for much of the world's cargo and oil supplies, but subject to sea piracy.
To better safeguard that and other heavily traveled routes, the United States has proposed stepping up intelligence sharing and interdiction efforts with regional governments, but some in the region, including Malaysia and Indonesia, are concerned this could become the first step toward a deployment of U.S. troops.
Speaking to reporters aboard his plane en route to Singapore, Secretary Rumsfeld did not say what type of help the United States may be prepared to offer, but did say Washington has no plans to unilaterally deploy U.S. forces along the region's sea lanes.
?What is important is we have a lot of good friends and a lot of good allies in this region and the United States is not going to be doing anything that we haven't discussed with them and coordinated and cooperated with,? he said.
Inspection of cargo ships and other maritime traffic has taken on added importance since 9-11. The Bush administration has begun initiatives to screen U.S. bound cargo before it leaves foreign ports and has adopted a policy of stopping vessels at sea carrying items suspected for use in making weapons of mass destruction, something Secretary Rumsfeld says some Asian countries are now doing as well.
This region has seen its own increase in terrorism and threats by Islamic extremist groups, most notably the terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002.
?It is a global problem, it is a struggle, it is a war, call it what you want, an insurgency, that's trying to overthrow in many cases, and recently in Saudi Arabia, I could name five or six other countries, that is attempting to alter the way countries function,? he added.
Secretary Rumsfeld's visit to Asia, including a brief stop in Bangladesh, will be a short diversion from ongoing discussions and planning on Iraq. Many countries in this region are cooperating in the global war on terrorism. The defense secretary says during his trip he does not plan to ask any countries to contribute troops to the Iraq effort.