Keating: Pacific Rim Enjoys Widespread Peace, Stability
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 25, 2007 Pacific Rim nations are enjoying peace, wealth and stability made possible by free-market economic forces, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command said here yesterday. (Video)
“Things are better,” Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating said during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. U.S. trade in the Pacific region has increased six-fold since 1985, he said.
“Peace and stability are the watchwords of all the countries we’ve visited,” said Keating, who assumed command of PACOM on March 23.
Quality of life, including medical care, continues to improve across the Pacific region, the admiral reported, with some nations’ economies having grown “dramatically.”
Keating cited Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, and Japan as robust U.S. regional allies. And, other dynamic Pacific-region countries, like Indonesia and Malaysia, want to work with the United States as partners to defeat global terrorism, he said.
The People’s Republic of China also experienced great economic growth in recent years, Keating said, noting he’s had several meetings with senior Chinese military officials since he assumed command. Two decades ago, he recalled, thousands of bicycles, but few cars, could be seen traversing Beijing’s busy Tiananmen Square.
“Today, not so many bikes, but an awful lot of automobiles” are plying Beijing’s streets, the admiral noted. The change from bicycles to cars has increased China’s need for oil and gasoline, he added.
Consequently, China has stated that critical regional sea lanes must be available for it to import the billions of barrels of oil needed for its still-growing economy, Keating observed.
He pointed to the Strait of Malacca, a potential oil “choke point” that runs between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Half of China’s imported oil passes through the strait, Keating said, as well as 95 percent of the oil shipped to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
China is embarked on a military build-up that includes establishing a deep-water navy that likely will be used to ensure the country’s use of the Strait of Malacca, Keating said. U.S. officials have taken notice of China’s military buildup and are watching it with interest, he added.
The Chinese say their military buildup is for defensive purposes only, but the United States has expressed concern about China’s recent testing of satellite-killing technology, Keating said. “So, there is a difference between the way the People’s Liberation Army and the Pacific Command view China’s military development and Chinese military capabilities,” he said.
“This commerce moves through a maritime domain, and China wants to develop a blue-water navy, they say, so they can protect their right to use” important ocean trade routes, like the Malacca Strait.
In light of that scenario, it’s hard to argue against China’s logic, the admiral said.
China also wants to build aircraft carriers, Keating said.
“We said to them, essentially, ‘Knock yourselves out,’” he recalled, adding that operating aircraft carriers “is very difficult technology to master.”
A modern aircraft carrier is a very sophisticated piece of military hardware that’s extremely expensive to build and maintain, Keating said. The Chinese reserved their right to build an aircraft carrier, if they wanted to, he said.
The Chinese, who’ve toured many U.S. ships of the line, including aircraft carriers, made the observation: “‘There is no more prominent and visible signal of a nation’s resolve and might than an aircraft carrier coming into a port,’” Keating recalled.