Panetta to Visit Japan, China, New Zealand
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2012 Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will leave this weekend for his third visit to Asia in 11 months, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters today.
Panetta will travel to Japan, China and New Zealand.
In Japan, the secretary will meet with Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto for the second consultation in as many months. Panetta also will meet Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, Little said.
“The U.S.-Japan alliance has been a cornerstone of security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region for more than 50 years,” Little said. “And as part of our rebalancing effort, we are making new investments in the alliance for the 21st century.”
Little said the secretary looks forward to discussing a wide range of issues with his Japanese counterpart, including Japanese concerns over safety of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft the United States is deploying to Japan.
“We’ve been in close consultation with Japanese defense officials about the MV-22 Osprey aircraft,” Little said. “We have briefed them on events that have caused some concern in Japan, and we believe that this deployment remains on track.” So far, he said, he has no timeline for when the Osprey will be fully operational in Japan.
The frequency of recent visits to Japan shows the United States has “an unwavering commitment to the Japanese alliance and to Japanese security,” Little said.
“And it makes sense when you’re in the neighborhood to stop by and see your good friends,” he added.
While in Japan, Panetta also will meet with U.S. service members, Little said.
Next, the secretary will travel to China at the invitation of Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie.
“The visit provides an opportunity to deepen military-to-military engagements between China and the United States,” Little said, “[and the nations] continue to work together to establish healthy, stable reliable and continuous military-to-military ties.”
Panetta’s visit follows on Liang’s trip to Washington in May.
“We believe it’s going to be a very productive and cordial visit,” Little said, “one that will advance our shared goals of a more transparent and even more viable relationship with the Chinese military.”
Panetta’s next stop, nearly 7,000 miles southeast of China, will be New Zealand. He will be the first U.S. defense secretary to visit that nation in more than 30 years, Little said. The trip follows the signing in June of the Washington Declaration by the secretary and Dr. Jonathan Coleman, New Zealand’s defense minister.
“The declaration provides a framework for cooperation to focus, strengthen and expand the bilateral defense relationship,” the press secretary explained.
While in New Zealand, Panetta will lay a wreath at the World War II Hall of Memories in Auckland to remember the sacrifices of New Zealand’s defense forces in that war, in Korea, in the Malaya-Borneo conflict, in Vietnam and in Afghanistan, Little said.