More exercises, expanding partnerships

SINGAPORE, June 2: The United States will move the majority of its warships to the Asia-Pacific in coming years and keep six aircraft carriers in the region, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today, giving the first details of a new US military strategy.
Speaking at an annual security forum in Singapore, Panetta sought to dispel the notion that the shift in US focus to Asia was designed to contain China’s emergence as a global power.
He acknowledged differences between the world’s two largest economies on a range of issues, including the South China Sea.
‘We’re not naive about the relationship and neither is China,’ Panetta told the Shangri-La Dialogue attended by senior civilian and military leaders from about 30 Asia-Pacific nations.
‘We also both understand that there really is no other alternative but for both of us to engage and to improve our communications and to improve our (military-to-military) relationships,’ he said. ‘That’s the kind of mature relationship that we ultimately have to have with China.’
Some Chinese officials have been critical of the US shift of military emphasis to Asia, seeing it as an attempt to fence in the country and frustrate Beijing’s territorial claims.
Panetta’s comments came at the start of a seven-day visit to the region to explain to allies and partners the practical meaning of the US military strategy unveiled in January that calls for rebalancing American forces to focus on the Pacific.
The trip, which includes stops in Vietnam and India, comes at a time of renewed tensions over competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, with the Philippines, a major US ally, and China in a standoff over the Scarborough Shoal near the Philippine coast.
The South China Sea is a flashpoint but, with about 90 ercent of global trade moving by sea, protecting the teeming shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca is equally vital.
‘Maritime freedoms cannot be the exclusive prerogative of a few,’ Indian Defence Minister A K Antony told the forum. ‘We must find the balance between the rights of nations and the freedoms of the world community.’ (agencies)

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