US: Asia rebalance will avoid budget ax

Updated: 2013-04-09 11:48

By Joseph Boris in Washington (China Daily)

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A high-ranking Pentagon official said the United States' much-discussed "strategic rebalance" to the Asia-Pacific region won't fall victim to budget turmoil in Washington, while stressing that the move isn't directed against any particular nation.

"It includes everyone in the region; it is not aimed at anyone - no individual country or group of countries," Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Car-ter said in a speech on Monday.

Carter reiterated the argument that, despite unease in Beijing about US intentions in the region, the rebalance is a continuation of US policies since the end of World War II.

The strategy, which involves a redeployment of forces from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "is the perpetuation of the pivotal American military role in the Asia-Pacific region which has had the effect of providing the peace and stability that has allowed the countries of Asia - first Japan, then the Republic of Korea, Southeast Asia, now China and India - to develop politically and economically in a climate that has been free from conflict", Carter said in response to a question. That role "has been a benefit to China, in my judgment", he added.

Carter, while stating the US case that the rebalance will protect economic interests such as the assurance of free and open sea lanes, detailed the list of US military assets that have already begun streaming toward the region. Many of these ships, fighter jets, bombers, reconnaissance aircraft and missile batteries are returning to their former US Navy and Air Force bases in the Asia-Pacific, he said.

"The end of the war in Iraq and the reduction in Afghanistan allow us to shift the great weight of effort from these wars to our stabilizing presence in the Asia-Pacific region," Carter told his audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

He warned against assumptions that the rebalance - sometimes called the "Asia pivot"- would fail or be limited by automatic cuts to the US federal budget that have forced the Pentagon to reduce spending by $41 billion during this fiscal year, which ends on Sept 30.

Although "very disruptive", the cuts imposed by Congress still leave the Defense Department room to execute the strategy, Carter said. The rebalance "is not in jeopardy", he said.

"Wherever we have flexibility, we are favoring and protecting the rebalance," the Pentagon official said.

He again sought to reassure China about the nature of the rebalance, stressing that recent moves of tactical military equipment to Pacific bases - such as on the US island territory of Guam - were only in response to several weeks of "provocations" from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Asked about Beijing's concerns, Carter said: "I do think that China could play, and I wish they would play, a larger role in influencing the North Koreans to stop these provocations."

He pointed to China's acceptance of a US invitation to take part this summer in military exercises known as RIMPAC in Pacific waters around Hawaii.

"We seek to strengthen and grow our military-to-military relationship with China, commensurate with our growing political and economic relationship," he said. "Building and sustaining a positive and constructive relationship with China is essential to the success of our rebalancing strategy."

Carter, repeating a point made on March 20 in Indonesia, after meetings with defense officials from that country and its neighbors, said the US is focused on diplomacy to resolve territorial disputes in the region.

"We strongly support ASEAN unity and we applaud the efforts of ASEAN member nations to develop a binding code of conduct that would create a rules-based framework for regulating the conduct of parties in the South China Sea," he said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian nations.

"And we welcome China's active participation in negotiations."