1) Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s trip to Asia-Pacific
It could not be better timing that Leon Panetta’s trip to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue conference is in the midst of the tense face-offs between Vietnam/China and Philippines/China in the East Sea (if you’re on Vietnam’s side)/West Sea (if you choose to be with Philippines)/South China Sea (if you choose to disregard any rules by UNCLOS).
Secretary Panetta announce that the Pentagon will shift more Navy warship to the region over the next several years—up to 60% of the fleet by the year of 2020. This, of course, is a part of new strategy for the US to increase its presence in the Asia-Pacific. Panetta said despite the recent cuts in defense budget, his Defense Department has budget for this program.
“…make no mistake, in a steady, deliberate and sustainable way, the United States military is rebalancing and brings enhanced capabilities to this vital region.”
The East Sea/West Sea/South China Sea has been boiling sea in recent years when China claimed pretty much the entire sea as its own while Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore have all made territorial claims of their own.
2) Panetta is on a nine-day trip across Asia
First stop in his nine-day trip is Singapore where he will attend the annual International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Annual Shangri-La Dialogue where he will meet Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Australia and (may be) China.
After Singapore, Panetta will continue to Vietnam to meet with its high-level officials for a visit from 6/3-6/5. The United States and Vietnam have been working for over 17 years on normalization of their relations after the long Vietnam War. A top official said the relations are “healthy” between the 2 countries.
His last stop on the trip will be India—an important partner of the US in the region.
3) China’s Aggression/Bully in the region calls for the greater presence of the US
There is no question but China’s aggression in the region is the cause for the need of a greater presence of the US in the Asia-Pacific region. And what better country is there to partner with than the old familiar Vietnam to stop expansion from China? Not to mention that the US has pact to defend Philippines in the event that it gets into war with China.
This strategy—to bring up to 60% of its fleet into the region—will no doubt upset Beijing whose leaders already said they would be very unhappy with any increase in US presence in the region.
But as Rhett Butler said to Scarlett O’Hara…“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”