Panetta unveils US plans to expand naval fleet in Asia | News | DW | 02.06.2012
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Panetta unveils US plans to expand naval fleet in Asia

The US defense secretary has unveiled plans to move more of the navy's warships to Asian waters. Leon Panetta played down concerns from Beijing, saying the move would actually benefit China.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has outlined plans to move most of the country's naval fleet to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020.

Speaking at a summit of senior politicians and military officers in Singapore on Saturday, Panetta said the U.S. would redeploy its warships to make 60 percent of the fleet based in the region, up from the current 50 percent.

Panetta said this would "include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines."

The annual Shangri-La Dialogue summit comes at a time of increased tensions due to a sovereignty dispute between China and the Philippines - a U.S. ally - over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Aside from group talks, Panetta also held individual meetings with the Philippine defense head and other counterparts.

During his speech, Panetta stressed the Pentagon's commitment to its allies in the region, including the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Panetta said the U.S. would work to increase the number and scope of its bilateral and multilateral military training exercises. The U.S. navy was involved in more than 170 such exercises in the region in 2011, according to official sources.

Addressing China's concerns

He also acknowledged differences between Washington and Beijing on a number of related issues, including the South China Sea.

"We also both understand that there really is no other alternative but for both of us to engage and to improve our communications and to improve our (military-to-military) relationships," Panetta said. "That's the kind of mature relationship that we ultimately have to have with China."

He also argued that far from being a threat, the shift would actually be in China's interests.

"Our effort to renew and intensify our involvement in Asia is fully compatible ... with the development and growth of China. Indeed, increased U.S. involvement in this region will benefit China as it advances our shared security and prosperity for the future.

The details that Panetta unveiled in Singapore on Saturday were the first concrete plans to be made public since President Barack Obama announced Washington's intention to shift towards Asia.

pfd/sad (Reuters, AFP)