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Opportunity Now for Asia to Develop Multilateral Relationships

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

TOKYO, Nov. 9, 2007 – Now is the time for Asian countries to develop multilateral relationships to deal with security challenges in the region, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a question-and-answer period following a speech at Sophia University here today.

A student asked Gates if the change to American troop presence in Korea and Japan signaled a change to U.S. commitment to the region.

The secretary said the transformation of the U.S. military relationship and presence in South Korea “is really a reflection of the growing wealth and maturity of South Korea itself and the ability of the Koreans to take on an increasing measure of responsibility for their own security.”

In 2012, South Korea will receive wartime operational control of its military from U.S. command.

“We will continue to have a presence there,” Gates said. “We will continue to be committed to the security of South Korea and our other allies, like Japan, here in Asia.”

Overall, the secretary said, repositioning American forces in the region is really a maturing of U.S. alliance relationships here in Asia, specifically with Japan and the Republic of Korea. “It does not in any way indicate a lessening of our commitment to either,” he said.

With the maturation, the defense secretary would like to see a shift to a more multilateral approach in the region. “To be honest about it, for many years the United States had better relations with a number of different Asian nations than they had with each other,” Gates said. “And it made the bilateral relations the centerpiece of our security relations.”

But the end of the Cold War changed this dynamic. “Now it seems to us that there is an opportunity, for example, for closer U.S., Republic of Korea, Japan cooperation; U.S., Japanese, Australian cooperation; (and) the involvement of India,” he said.

Now there is an opportunity here for the countries of the region to grow multilateral relationships where each country works to its strength in terms of the security situation in the region, he said. “It seems to me this also reflects the growing importance of these countries in terms of their own security and the importance of them taking responsibility for their own security and not just depending on the United States to be the guarantor,” Gates said.

The secretary said this evolution from bilateral relationships, in which the United States played the principle security role, to a more equal relationship between the United States and its allies, “and then among our allies themselves, represents the next step forward in Asia. And I that’s the picture we should aim for in 21st Century Asia.”

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Robert M. Gates

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