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Panetta Begins Trip to Japan, China, New Zealand

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta left today for his second visit to Japan and his first to China as defense secretary, as well as the first visit to New Zealand any defense secretary has made since Caspar Weinberger went there in 1982.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta boards an Air Force E4-B on Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 15, 2012, to begin an eight-day trip to meet with defense counterparts in Japan, China and New Zealand. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
  

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

Reporters at the Pentagon yesterday were briefed on background by senior defense officials about Panetta’s objectives for the trip.

Panetta is making his third trip to Asia as defense secretary, according to officials, noting Panetta’s visit will further advance engagement on the U.S. strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, which the secretary outlined during a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last June.

The trip highlights the U.S. role in maintaining peace and security, which for decades has set conditions to advance prosperity and democracy in the region, officials said.

American engagement in the region is guided by principles Panetta outlined in his Shangri-La speech, officials said, noting those principles include free and open commerce, just international order that emphasizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations and fidelity to the rule of law, open access by all to the shared domains of sea, air, space, cyberspace and resolving disputes without coercion and use of force.

Officials noted that in support of the rebalance, department leaders plan to increase the U.S. naval presence in the Asia-Pacific, expand training exercises with regional partners, deploy forces rotationally to locations throughout the region, and prioritize military capabilities most relevant to the region.

The first stop, in Japan, recognizes an alliance that is the cornerstone of U.S. Asia-Pacific engagement, officials said.

The secretary will meet with Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto, officials said, and the two will discuss a wide range of issues including the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan and Japanese concerns over safety of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft the United States is deploying to Japan.

The secretary will also visit U.S. troops while in Japan, according to officials.

After Japan, Panetta will travel on to China, at the invitation of Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie, according to officials. While in China, they added, Panetta will meet with top Chinese civilian and military leaders.

The China visit will allow Panetta to deepen the military-to-military engagement with that country, which is a priority for the secretary, officials said.

Officials said the secretary believes that having stable and constructive U.S.-China relations is a vital component of this broader strategy. The United States will not achieve security and prosperity in the 21st century, officials said, without a constructive U.S.-China relationship, including a stronger military-to-military relationship.

U.S. leaders urge the same constructive aims on regional partners and allies toward healthy, stable, reliable and continuous military-to-military ties among Asia-Pacific nations, officials said.

With regard to China, U.S. officials are building on areas of common interest while strengthening channels of communication that can help improve mutual understanding, build trust, increase transparency and reduce the risk of miscalculation, officials said.

Panetta is aware of the challenges posed by the complex relationship between the United States and China, but he's committed to strengthening and deepening that relationship, officials said.

In New Zealand, Panetta will build on progress made this summer when he and Defense Minister Dr. Jonathan Coleman signed the Washington Declaration, officials said.

New Zealand is a steadfast and valued military partner both in Afghanistan, and in responding to natural disasters and providing security in the South Pacific, officials said.

 

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