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US Commander Says Shift to Pacific Steady, Deliberate

U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Samuel Locklear speaks during a roundtable briefing with the media members at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, April 11, 2012.
PENTAGON -- The top U.S. commander in the Pacific says the U.S. military is pushing for a steady, deliberate approach as it pivots its focus to the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. military leadership is trying to head off suspicions that its new attention on Asia is aimed at China.

Admiral Samuel Locklear recently took on the job of commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific and will soon head to China for discussions aimed at easing any tensions that may exist as the U.S. works to build its military relationships with countries in Asia where China’s influence is also growing.

Admiral Locklear told reporters at the Pentagon Friday U.S. forces will seek to build existing relationships but not build any new bases in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We are going to take a steady, deliberate and sustainable approach," he said. "We're going to continue to work on our military-to-military relationships with China because it's so important that as China emerges, that we understand each other, that we prevent miscalculation as we go forward.”

Patrick Cronin, an Asia security analyst at the Center for a New American Security research group in Washington, says the idea of a shift in focus to the Pacific is something that previous administrations had considered doing in the 1990s when China’s growth was already apparent. With the post 9/11 wars ending, the administration sees Asia as the next area of concern.

“The deck is clearing to return to that long term set of priorities," Cronin said. "But it’s going to be done not swiftly not in any major way but rather gradually in a way that hopefully is building cooperation, building a rules-based inclusive set of institutions in the region rather than dividing the region into blocks and polarizing the region into some type of new Cold War.”

Admiral Locklear spoke in support of U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, a global maritime agreement that is currently the subject of debate among U.S. lawmakers.

Defense officials believe the treaty would help avoid conflict with China by establishing a set of rules in waters where U.S. Navy ships regularly conduct exercises.

The U.S. is one of a few nations that has not ratified the 30-year-old treaty because of concerns by some politicians who say it would undermine U.S. sovereignty by giving too much power to international organizations over mineral rights.