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Gates Begins Asia Swing Focusing on Regional Security

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

EN ROUTE TO GUAM, May 28, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today kicked off a six-day swing through the Western Pacific that includes a keynote address at the 7th annual International Institute of Strategic Studies’ Asia Security Summit in Singapore.

The visit, which also will take the secretary to Guam, Thailand and South Korea, will underscore the United States’ enduring presence in and commitment to the region, a senior defense official traveling with Gates told reporters. It also will amplify the U.S. role in strengthening multilateral security cooperation.

The three-day security conference, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue after the hotel where it’s held, will bring together more than 20 major participants for what the official called “the big security fest in East Asia.”

Gates’ address at the first plenary session May 31 will set the stage for the next presidential administration, officials said. Pointing to the longstanding U.S. commitment, he will assure regional nations of continued commitment, regardless of who wins the U.S. general election.

The speech “transcends the immediate and looks at the enduring,” another official said on background.

Gates will recognize changes within the Asia-Pacific theater, including the emergence of China and India as powers.

The issue of China’s growing military power, and lack of transparency about it, will almost certainly arise, the official said.

But this year, discussions are expected to be less contentious than at past Shangri-La dialogues. That’s because the Defense Department released this year’s China Military Power report in early spring, rather than just before the conference as in 2006 and 2007, with unintended consequences, the official said.

“We did not want to step on Shangri-La and to set up this artificial confrontation atmosphere,” he said.

Gates is slated to meet with Chinese Lt. Gen. M.A. Xiatian, deputy chief of general staff for the People’s Liberation Army, during a “pull-aside,” an informal bilateral meeting during the conference.

The United States and China are moving toward more positive exchanges that transcend old Cold War paradigms, a State Department official traveling with Gates told reporters.

“This is not the competitive relationship of the Cold War,” he said. “We are really working together to create the conditions that will be beneficial for all of us and all of the residents of the Asian-Pacific zone.”

Gates will emphasize the strength of U.S. alliances and partnerships in maintaining regional security during the formal Shangri-La sessions, as well as the many bilateral and pull-aside sessions planned.

His keynote speech “will show very convincingly that the alliance structure that is out there is not some Cold War relic, not something that constricts or confines alliance partners, but is very facilitative, very enabling, and also very flexible,” an official said.

The United States is approaching security challenges in the region not only multilaterally, but also as a “whole of government,” the State Department official said.

“The face of American power projection in Asia these days isn’t just military. It’s not just diplomatic. It’s not just public diplomacy. It’s not just development assistance,” he said. “But it is really all of these things and more, woven together.

“And Secretary Gates has been an ardent advocate in our government back in Washington in making sure that we work and coordinate better as a government in projecting our power (and) in pursuing our security partnerships in Asia,” he said. “So not only do we have more foreign countries as partners, but we are also more integrated as a government in engaging with them.”

Examples of this cooperation – expected to be a focus at the Shangri-La conference – are ongoing humanitarian assistance missions in both Burma and China.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has come up with a new plan to speed up the delivery of aid to Burma and is expected to seek support for it at the conference. “This will be a place where a lot of comment is being exchanged. It is very much the current issue,” an official said.

During Gates’ first stop of the trip, in Guam, he will witness the massive construction effort under way to prepare for the arrival of Marine forces being relocated from Okinawa.

An official traveling with Gates emphasized the importance of Guam, with its prime strategic location, its pro-military population and its status as a U.S. territory. “This is not just another base,” he said. “This is a place where you can project power from the continental United States and Hawaii -- ships, aircraft and land troops as well.”

But increasingly, Guam is emerging as a node for multilateral security cooperation in Southeast Asia, and for alliance transformation in Northeast Asia, the official said. “It is integral to the force posture transformation,” he said.

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Robert M. Gates

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