Pentagon hopeful of diffusing tension

Updated: 2012-09-25 10:51

By Tan Yingzi in Washington (China Daily)

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A senior United States defense official said on Monday that the US military could play a larger role in easing tensions between China and Japan in the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands.

Kathleen Hicks, principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, said stability in the Asia-Pacific region could be achieved if the US military furthers ties with the region's nations.

"We can be a stabilizing force and we can provide a channel of communication that can help diffuse the situation," she said in answering a question about the Pentagon's role in China and Japan's political struggle over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

Her remarks came after US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrapped up his trip to Japan, China and New Zealand on Saturday. It was his first visit to China and third trip to Asia since taking his current position in mid-2011.

Panetta, in the eyes of many analysts, was expected to serve as a mediator between China and Japan. Japan's reported purchase of the islands has triggered waves of highly publicized protests across China.

Panetta and the US government have reiterated that Washington will not take sides on this issue and have urged the two countries to solve the dispute peacefully.

Military-to-military relations between China and the US, which have experienced both progress and a number of setbacks over the years, have currently been riding on a stable path.

The two militaries have increased communications and exchanges this year. Following the high-profile visit of Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie in early May, Cai Yingting, Chinese deputy chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, met with US military officials in August.

In Beijing, Panetta conducted candid discussions with several senior Chinese officials, including Vice-President Xi Jinping. He also visited the naval base at Qingdao, the home port of China's North Sea Fleet.

Recent several trips to the Asia-Pacific region by US senior officials, including a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month, have strengthened US alliances and partnerships, deepened working relationships with emerging powers and strengthened multilateral institutions, Hicks said Monday.

But these investments of time and resources are heavily influenced by the US' relationship with China, she added.

"The stability and prosperity of this region will be shaped by (the US and China's) ability to work together," she said.

She revealed that next year the US Defense Department will work with allies in Northeast Asia. It will continue to focus on Guam as a strategic hub in the Western Pacific and expand access to locations in Southeast Asia and in the Indian Ocean region.

These initiatives include establishing marine, air and ground forces in Okinawa, Japan; Guam; Australia; and Hawaii. The US plans to increase the rotational deployment of air force units in Australia and will pursue opportunities with Philippine allies to rotate US forces to priority areas.