Pentagon chief to advance ‘growing security network’ in Asia Pacific – The Hill

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Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Friday described the United States’s “growing security network in the Asia Pacific” amid growing regional concerns about China’s militarization of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

“Almost all the nations there are asking us to do more with them, bilaterally and multilaterally,” Carter said at the Council on Foreign Relations ahead of a trip to the Asia Pacific and the Middle East. 

Carter will be in India and the Philippines this week to advance growing military cooperation with the two countries, which are also warily eyeing China’s rise. 

Despite pledging in September not to militarize the disputes over islands and reefs in the South China Sea with five other nations, China has continued to build on and deploy weapons systems on the islands. 

An international arbitration panel is scheduled to rule in late April or May on the Philippines’s claim that China’s attempts to declare maritime sovereignty in the South China Sea are illegal, which U.S. officials worry could prompt China to declare an air defense identification zone in the region. 

The U.S. has refrained from taking sides in the territorial disputes and has urged all parties to resolve any disputes multilaterally and peacefully. 

“Indeed, in the South China Sea, China’s actions are raising regional tensions,” Carter said. “That’s why many of those countries are reaching out anew to the United States to uphold the rules and principles that have allowed the region to thrive. That’s why we support intensified regional diplomacy, not increased tensions, the threat of force or unilateral changes to the status quo,” he said. 

Carter said the Pentagon is “operationalizing the next phase of the rebalance and cementing it for the long term.” 

That includes increasing the number of some 400,000 U.S. military personnel in the region and sending the most advanced weapons and capabilities there, he said. 

The Pentagon’s 2017 budget proposal would boost production of the SM-6 missile, which now has an anti-ship capability, invest more than $12 billion for the new B-21 Long-Range Strike Bomber, over $8 billion in advanced undersea capabilities, and $34 billion in cyber, electronic warfare and space capabilities. 

Carter said the Pentagon was enhancing its partnership with allies Japan and the Republic of Korea, while developing new partnerships with Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and others. 

Carter also urged Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, arguing it was as strategically important to the rebalance as an aircraft carrier. 

“TTP should be ratified because of its economic and strategic benefits, and because we must recognize what the alternative to TPP is: a regional economy with standards that don’t serve American interests, and one that’s carved up by lopsided, coercively negotiated, lower-standard trade deals,” he said. 

Carter hailed a 10-year framework for the U.S.-India defense and technological relationship in what he called “a remarkable convergence of U.S. and Indian interests — what I call a strategic handshake.” 

One initiative could see greater co-production and co-development of defense capabilities, such as aircraft carrier, jet fighter and jet engine collaboration. 

Carter also hailed the U.S.’s long-standing defense relationship with the Philippines and two recent steps: the recently ratified U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the new U.S. Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative. 

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement will support modernization of the Philippine Armed Forces, allow U.S. forces to conduct regular rotational training exercises and activities in the Philippines, and the MSI, a $425 million fund, will enable better information sharing between the U.S. and Philippines military. 

Carter said the U.S.’s role in maintaining stability in the region, where there is no formal security alliance such as NATO, has been crucial. 

“By operationalizing the rebalance, by transforming old alliances and new partnerships, and by networking security, we can gather force and respond to any manner of crisis, man-made or natural disaster, and continue to promote and defend the principles that have allowed so many in the region to rise and prosper,” Carter said. 

Pentagon chief to advance ‘growing security network’ in Asia Pacific – The Hill}