The United States has announced a major increase in U.S. funding for military education and training programs in Southeast Asia.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the announcement Sunday during a speech at the Malaysian Institute of Defense and Security in Kuala Lumpur. He said the latest Pentagon budget includes $90 million for the programs, an increase of more than 50 percent compared to four years ago.
The decision comes as Washington is shifting its strategic focus increasingly toward the Asia-Pacific region. Hagel said the U.S. administration is seeking to "rebalance" diplomatic, economic and security engagements with the Asia Pacific "to reflect Southeast Asia's emerging prominence and importance."
Beijing has expressed concern over America's growing interest in the region, viewing it as an attempt to encircle China and embolden its neighbors. China has unresolved disputes with several countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, over portions of the South China Sea.
In his speech, Hagel stressed the importance of having emerging powers such as China and India participate in a new security architecture for the region.
He argued that security is a critical foundation for prosperity in Southeast Asia, saying trade "cannot flourish in waters that are contested by force."