News / Asia

Pentagon Sends More Warships to Pacific

Meredith Buel
The United States is building up its navy fleet in the Asia-Pacific region, a part of the world where China also has strategic interests.

By 2020 the Pentagon plans to shift 60 percent of its naval assets to the Pacific, in contrast to the current 50-50 split with the Atlantic.

The move is part of the Obama administration’s strategic pivot to Asia, which analysts say is designed to offset China’s rising military power.

Still, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a recent conference in Singapore the rebalancing is not aimed at threatening Beijing.

“Some view the increased emphasis by the United States in the Asia-Pacific region as some kind of challenge to China.  I reject that view entirely," said Panetta.

Military spending by China and other Asian nations is on the rise and, for the first time this year, is projected to exceed all military expenditures in Europe.

Ernest Bower heads the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The pivot or the rebalancing does not mean containment of China," said Bower. "It is a strategic chess game meant to convince China to play by the rules with everybody else.”

Those rules include governing the resource-rich South China Sea, where Beijing has sent sophisticated patrol boats amid tensions with neighboring countries.

“We oppose provocation, we oppose coercion, and we oppose the use of force.  We do not take sides when it comes to competing territorial claims," said Panetta.

On his trip, Secretary Panetta stressed that America’s pivot to Asia will depend on enhanced military relationships with Vietnam, India and other countries.

China has long been suspicious of U.S. alliances in the region.

Liu Weimin, a foreign ministry spokesman, said “The approach of artificially stressing military security, enhancing military deployments and strengthening military alliances is out of keeping with the times," said Weimin. "The Asia-Pacific is the region where Chinese and U.S. interests most overlap, and we welcome the United States to play a constructive role in the region.”

But as the U.S. sends more military assets to Asia, significant differences with China remain.

Bower said,  “If there are disputes and there are conflicts that would unsettle Asia, it would be a real security concern for the United States because the truth is that a lot of our commerce comes from that region and we have massive investments there."

While the Pentagon is facing significant budget cuts over the next decade, officials say they will not impact the new strategy to focus additional military assets in the Asia-Pacific region.

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