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Official: Asian Leaders Begin to Believe in U.S. Shift to Region

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2012 – Asian leaders are beginning to believe that the U.S. military’s rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region is real, and they are welcoming the move, a senior defense official said here today.

“The rebalance is – and continues to be – a very welcome initiative by friends in Southeast Asia and beyond,” the official, speaking on background, told Pentagon reporters. 

The rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific-Indian Ocean area is an outgrowth of the new defense strategic guidance. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday in Germany that the rebalancing is necessary.

“In 2020 and beyond, the security and economic challenges to our nation migrate into the Pacific, and demographics migrate to the Pacific,” he said. “It’s pretty clear we have to rebalance. This is about rebalancing intellectual energy and how we apply it. It’s about using the military instrument of power and better integrating with the other instruments of power.”

Asian and American leaders have discussed the rebalancing effort and are now seeing the strategy begin to take effect. “They’ve seen initial first steps,” the official said. “The second and third waves of things to come, we’re in dialogue about.”

When U.S. leaders announced the strategy nearly a year ago, the question was whether America was going to follow through. The Clinton administration also announced it would stress American efforts in the region, but world events intervened – 9/11 – and this didn’t happen. Now, with the war over in Iraq and U.S. involvement in Afghanistan winding down, there is renewed effort to shift America’s attention to the region.

“I think there is now a growing recognition and appreciation that this is a … real initiative that is moving forward,” the official said. Now, Asian leaders are discussing what comes next, asking what they should be doing and offering advice, counsel and insights, he added.

The United States would like to see more multilateral efforts in the region, the official said, noting this was a topic of conversation at a recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia. The United States has good bilateral relations with nations of the region, he added, but “we are interested in … working through our mission in ASEAN a little bit more, trying to empower that body … to do a little more, to be a little more assertive in problem-solving as a multilateral organization, versus doing most of the business bilateral capital to capital.”

The U.S. mission to ASEAN has beefed up over time, the official said. “You’ve seen more engagement with that entity over time, and I think that will continue,” he added.

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