Panetta Discusses New U.S. Asian Strategy With Allies
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE, Jun. 2, 2012 Defense Secretary Leon Panetta held a series of bilateral and trilateral meetings with Asian allies during the Shangri-La Dialogue here today.
Panetta met with leaders from Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia and host-nation Singapore on the sidelines of the annual conference of defense leaders.
The meetings followed his early morning speech detailing specifics on the U.S. military shift toward the Asia-Pacific region. Officials speaking on background said the secretary’s speech and follow-on meetings with allies received good grades.
“We heard, especially after the speech today from our allies and partners, that they believe this is not just American talk, but that we’re actually walking the walk on our rebalancing to the region,” a senior defense official said on background following the meetings.
Panetta is the third U.S. defense secretary to participate in the Shangri-La Dialogue, which began in 2002. Officials said the participants favorably commented on the make-up of the U.S. delegation.
“The delegations we met with clearly took note of the seniority of our delegation,” a senior defense official said.
Panetta led the delegation, which included Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command. William Burns, the deputy secretary of state, and a bipartisan congressional delegation, also participated.
Allies were appreciative about the broad outlines of American strategy in the region that Panetta offered. The official said the tone of discussions indicated the allies felt “there is a strong value in U.S. presence in the region.” Cambodian and Thai defense ministers invited the secretary to visit their countries, and the Australian minister of defense spoke with Panetta about the Australia-U.S. defense ministerial later this year.
In the bilateral meeting with Singapore, the secretary and Minister for Defense Ng Eng Hen finalized the rotation of four U.S. littoral combat ships to Singapore. The U.S. ships will not be based or home-ported in Singapore, and the crews will live aboard their ships, as is customary for sailors at sea, for the duration of their deployment. Each littoral combat ship has a complement of between 40 to 75 sailors, depending on how it is configured. This means the total number of sailors on this rotation would be between 160 and 300.
The deployment is a true rotation, and the ships will strengthen U.S. engagement in the region through visits at regional ports and through engagement with regional navies through exercises and exchanges.
The U.S. and Singapore also are exploring increasing the complexity of existing bilateral exercises. Examples include possibly incorporating Navy elements into Exercise Commando Sling, currently a bilateral Air Force exercise. U.S. Marines also may be training at Singapore’s Murai Urban Training Facility from 2013 onward.
In a trilateral meeting, Panetta met with South Korean National Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin and Japan Parliamentary Senior Vice Minister of Defense Shu Watanabe to share views on security in Northeast Asia.
The three men cited North Korean provocations, including the North sinking of the South Korean Navy ship Cheonan and shelling a South Korean island that killed two civilians and two South Korean Marines in 2010. They also cited the North’s attempted missile launch in April 2012. These acts show the North poses a serious threat to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, Northeast Asia and the world.
“They agreed North Korea must understand that it will achieve nothing by threats or by provocations, and that such behavior will only deepen its international isolation,” said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little in a written statement following the meeting.
The three leaders called on North Korea to comply with its obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, including that it abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.
The ministers said that any threats from North Korea will be met with solidarity from all three countries. The three ministers also discussed collaboration on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, maritime security, protecting the freedom of navigation and non-proliferation.
Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith joined Panetta and Watanabe in another trilateral meeting. The U.S., Japanese and Australian leaders agreed “to work through 2020 to refine and consolidate their trilateral defense relationship and support the network of existing alliances, forums and dialogues to meet a variety of common security challenges,” according to a press release issued following the meeting.
The three reiterated their support for promoting security and stability in a rules-based international order.
Panetta ended his string of conferences meeting with Malaysian Defense Minister Dato’ Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
“During the meeting, both leaders stated that with a renewed focus on Asia as part of the U.S. defense strategy, they look forward to strengthening the U.S.-Malaysia military-to-military relationship including expanding multilateral exercises,” Little said in a written release.
The secretary specifically thanked Hamidi for Malaysian armed forces medical personnel deployed to Afghanistan.
Panetta leaves Singapore tomorrow and will visit Vietnam before moving to India.