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Asia-Pacific Region Vital to U.S. Security

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

HONOLULU, Hawaii, April 8, 1997 – The future's growth, dynamism and economic vitality lie in the Asia-Pacific region, and U.S. troops are helping control and shape that future, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said here April 5.

Protecting U.S. interests in the region requires keeping about 100,000 American troops forward deployed in Japan and the Republic of Korea, Cohen told reporters at the start of a week-long trip to the Far East.

"We intend to maintain a vigorous presence that helps to deter any aggression," he said. "It also helps shape the environment and reminds people that the United States is truly a reliable and capable ally."

U.S. presence is the foundation for peace and stability in the region, making it possible for local nations to concentrate on building economies rather than militaries, Cohen said. "It's made it possible for them to cooperate as trading partners rather than confronting each other an adversaries," he said.

He said U.S. commitment to Asian-Pacific security is firm, as demonstrated by recent visits by President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "I believe we should do all we can to reinforce the strong ties that have produced such an unprecedented level of prosperity and stability during the past quarter century," he said.

Cohen's itinerary included a stop at U.S. Pacific Command's Honolulu headquarters and troop visits in Japan at Yokota Air Base, U.S. Navy Fleet Activities Yokosuka and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. Final stops were scheduled in the Republic of Korea at the Army's Camp Casey north of Seoul and Camp Boniface in the demilitarized zone at Panmunjom. About 330,000 U.S. troops, including the 100,000 forward deployed, are assigned to U.S. Pacific Command.

Cohen said he has maintained a strong interest in the Asia-Pacific region since his first trip there in 1973. Last year, as a senator, he made four trips to Southeast Asia, including a stop in China.

While the United States maintains strong ties with Japan and Korea, U.S. officials are pursuing a policy of engagement with China, Cohen said. As a result of a military-to-military agreement worked out by former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, for example, the first Chinese navy ship to make a port call to a mainland U.S. port recently docked in San Diego, he said. (Prior to the violent repression of student demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989, a Republic of China navy vessel visited Pearl Harbor, the first-ever port call at a U.S. harbor.)

Cohen said he is not surprised by China's recent efforts to modernize its military. During a trip he made to China in 1978, he said, Chinese officials laid out plans to modernize their agriculture, economy and military infrastructure. "What we're seeing now is the final component, the final phase of the modernization of their military," he said.

China is an emerging power U.S. officials hope will be compatible with other nations in the region, Cohen said. "It is our hope that by engaging China on a multiplicity of levels and issues we will help them make their way into the community of responsible international neighbors," Cohen said.

The world is watching to see how China behaves toward Hong Kong once the enclave reunites with the mainland this summer, Cohen said. "If China is to gain the continued respect of the nations of the world, they will behave accordingly," he said. "If they were to become in any way oppressive, to start cracking down in ways which the outside world would view with some apprehension, that would be reflected by the reaction of the world communities."

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