U.S. Defense Chief Seeks to Calm Asia Allies
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in his first visit to Asia as Pentagon chief, said he would seek to reassure anxious allies that budget cuts at home won't derail plans to expand the U.S. military presence in the region.
China's rapid military buildup and cyber activities targeting U.S. networks and defense systems have stoked tensions with the Obama administration ahead of a summit between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in California June 7 and 8. Mr. Hagel said he would use talks this weekend in Singapore and a meeting next week at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels to press─mainly in private─for common standards to reduce the cyberthreat.
To reassure Asian allies, the Pentagon intends to protect key deployments in the region from the spending cuts, including plans to increase the number of U.S. Marines at a base in Darwin, Australia, from 250 now to as many as 1,100 by next summer and as many as 2,500 in a few years, pending agreement with the Australian government, according to defense officials.
'Every measurement of our commitment to that 'rebalance' we're carrying forward,' Mr. Hagel said during a flight to Singapore, where he will attend a security conference and meet with Asian allies, including the Japanese and Korean defense ministers. Mr. Hagel will also have informal talks with a Chinese military delegation at the conference.
Regional concerns about China's rising military power and aggressive stance in disputed waters such as the South China Sea have prompted the U.S. to shore up defense ties with old allies while building closer military relations with new partners, including Vietnam.
The Obama administration is also increasingly concerned about a rise in cyberattacks which U.S. officials have linked to the Chinese military.
Mr. Hagel said the U.S. has been trying to improve military-to-military relations with China. In addition to meeting with the Chinese delegation on the sidelines of the Singapore conference, Mr. Hagel told reporters he has invited China's defense minister to visit Washington in August.
While he plans to continue to raise the cyber issue publicly, Mr. Hagel said his focus was on trying to address U.S. concerns with the Chinese behind closed doors. 'I've rarely seen that public engagement resolves a problem,' Mr. Hagel said.
Across-the-board cuts have already affected some U.S. military operations, including naval deployments, fueling allies' doubts about the U.S.'s commitment to follow through with the rebalancing to Asia.
'It's a very legitimate question that all of our allies and our partners have and should have,' Mr. Hagel said of the impact of the budget cuts, known as sequestration, on the rebalancing. 'We're on track,' he said.
Many regional allies in Asia want the U.S.'s backing but also don't want to provoke China, and they aren't sure Washington can counter Beijing's rapid military modernization because of America's fiscal constraints.
Some military strategists say doubts about Washington's ability to defend allies in Asia could encourage countries to conclude that it is in their best interest to cooperate more with China.
While seeking to assure allies, Mr. Hagel doesn't want a flare-up in tensions with Beijing ahead of next week's California summit.
A centerpiece of Mr. Hagel's trip will be a speech Saturday at the Singapore conference in which he will describe what the U.S. is doing to pivot to Asia. But he isn't expected to announce any new initiatives.
In addition to increasing deployments to the Darwin base, the U.S. is moving forward with plans to deploy up to four littoral combat ships, advanced warships designed for coastal operations, to Singapore on a rotational basis, meaning the vessels won't have a permanent base in the city-state.
The first littoral combat ship, the USS Freedom, arrived in Singapore in April. Mr. Hagel will visit the Freedom on Sunday. A second littoral combat ship could be deployed to Southeast Asia within the next 20 months.
The U.S. also plans to increase the number of Marines at bases in Okinawa, Japan, in the near term before relocating them to Guam. As the Marines are pulled out of Afghanistan, the number of forces of forces on Okinawa will rise, from about 15,000 to 19,000, officials say.
As part of the pivot, and to defend U.S. forces against North Korean rockets, the U.S. has expanded missile defenses in the region.
在 6月7日和8日中國國家主席習近平和美國總統奧巴馬(Barack Obama)在加州舉行峰會前﹐中國加快軍隊建設以及針對美國網絡和國防系統的網絡攻擊給中美兩國政府間本已緊張的關係火上澆油。哈格爾說﹐他將利用本週 末在新加坡的多場談話和下週在布魯塞爾舉行的北大西洋公約組織(North Atlantic Treaty Organization)的會議向有關方面施壓（主要在私下）﹐要求有關國家接受共同標準以減少網絡威脅。
美國防部官員說﹐為了安撫亞 洲盟國﹐五角大樓打算不讓美軍在該地區的關鍵部署受到開支削減的影響。其中包括到明年夏天時﹐將駐澳大利亞達爾文一個基地的美國海軍陸戰隊人數從目前的 250人上升到1,100人的計劃﹐並在此後幾年擴充到最多2,500人﹐具體取決於同澳大利亞政府達成的協議。
除了在達爾文皇家空軍基地(RAAF Base Darwin)增加部署﹐美國正在推進交替向新加坡部署最多四艘瀕海戰鬥艦的計劃。瀕海戰鬥艦是專為近海軍事行動設計的先進戰艦。這意味著這些戰艦不會在這個城市國際擁有永久基地。