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Panetta: Rebalance to Asia-Pacific Region Shows Early Progress

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Nov. 12, 2012 – The Defense Department’s strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is a long-term effort that is beginning to show tangible progress, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta conducts a press conference during his flight to Perth, Australia, Nov. 12, 2012. Panetta participated in Veterans Day ceremonies in Hawaii Nov. 11, before continuing on a six-day trip to Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The secretary is traveling to Perth, Australia, to attend the annual ministerial consultations between the United States and Australia, known as AUSMIN. It’s his first official visit to Australia, an ally and partner to the United States for more than 60 years.

Panetta will join Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, in meetings with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and sessions of the conference.

The secretary also will meet with Defense Minister Stephen Smith and Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett before continuing on to Thailand and Cambodia on his fourth official visit to the region, three of them this year.

In a briefing with reporters on his military aircraft, Panetta characterized the region as one in which the historical sacrifices of many nations, including the United States, have not been in vain.

“We’ve obviously sacrificed a great deal in the Pacific region, and the sacrifices that have been made have produced a safer and more secure and prosperous Asia-Pacific region,” he said. “That sacrifice led to some 60 years of stability and allowed our many allies and partners in this region to be able to rise and prosper. Many of them have been able to take millions out of poverty.”

Panetta said the region’s success is equally important to the United States’ national security and economic future.

“Looking ahead, we’re going to continue to invest in the region in order to continue the progress that’s been made,” the secretary noted, describing some tangible early results of the long-term effort.

Panetta cited the deployment of Marines for rotations to Darwin, Australia, and an effort to send littoral combat ships to Singapore.

“We have announced that we’re looking at a 60-40 split with regards to our Navy ships between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and that will … take effect over the next few years as we go towards 2020,” he said.

The Defense Department has completed the deployment of 12 MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft to Japan, Panetta said, and it is working closely with U.S. Pacific Command on investing in the capabilities of several countries in the region.

“In Korea, we’ve strengthened our cooperation on space and cyberspace, [and] we will continue to strengthen that relationship in a very critical nation that is extremely important to our security for the future,” the secretary said.

“We’re working with the Philippines to develop a greater presence and access there [and] … working to develop their capabilities,” he added.

Panetta noted he traveled to Beijing in September to improve the U.S.-China military-to-military relationship and develop a strategic dialog in key areas, and that Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter is working closely with officials in India to develop increased defense cooperation.

“But let me emphasize that the rebalance cannot just be about moving more ships or aircraft or troops to the region,” the secretary said. “Ultimately, it has to be a whole-of-government approach. That means we have to continue high-level engagements [such as those] with the secretary of state, the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff and myself at AUSMIN.”

President Barack Obama also will visit the region next week, Panetta said.

“We need to continue diplomatic, economic and development assistance and engagement, and we need resourcing to ensure that this commitment is sustainable for the future,” the secretary told reporters traveling with him. He added that the hope is to continue to make new partners in the region, working with countries to develop their capabilities and opportunities for a rotational U.S. military presence.

Later this week in Bangkok, Panetta will meet with his counterpart, Defense Minister Sukampol Suwannathat, and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Afterward, he will travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where he will meet with Cambodian Defense Minister Gen. Tea Banh and with defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the organization’s annual security conference.

“We want to deepen and modernize our existing partnerships and alliances,” Panetta said, “and build regional institutions, particularly working with ASEAN.”

The secretary said ASEAN can bring countries together to deal with some of the challenges in the region. “There’s a real opportunity here to make that work,” he said.

The rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region will not take U.S. attention off critical events in the Middle East, Panetta said.

“The United States is the strongest military power in the world, … and that means … we have to cover the threats that exist in the world -- not just in the Asia-Pacific region -- and that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “Even as we rebalance our efforts to the Pacific, we are maintaining a significant force in the Middle East to deal with contingencies there. We are still meeting our responsibilities with regards to other allies and partners in the world.”

The new defense strategy accommodates the rebalance and U.S. responsibilities elsewhere, Panetta said. “That’s why it’s very important that … we have some degree of certainty as to what the defense budget is going to look like,” he added, “not just now, but in the next five years.”

In the meantime, Panetta said, there are new areas of potential cooperation in the Pacific.

“It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of focus, but we are … a Pacific nation, a Pacific power, [and] we’re going to remain a Pacific power,” the secretary said. “Our fundamental goal here is to work with other countries to advance the peace and prosperity of the region.

Contact Author

Leon E. Panetta

Related Sites:
Transcript: Panetta Press Briefing
Special Report: Travels With Panetta

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