The entire U.S. government has made a concerted effort to improve U.S.-China relations while implementing the tenets in the defense strategic guidance, a senior Pentagon official said here today.
Speaking to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Kathleen Hicks, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy explained the U.S. military’s strategic shift in focus toward the Asia-Pacific region.
“The investment of time and resources that the entire U.S. government is making in our relationships in this region includes a strong emphasis on improving relations with China,” she said. But as President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter have emphasized, the rebalance is not just about China, she added.
“It is not just about the U.S. goal in the region, and it’s not an attempt by the U.S. to contain China,” she said.
Hicks said the need for rebalancing became apparent in 2011 as the Defense Department’s senior leaders, along with the president’s staff, engaged in a strategic review of how to achieve the objectives of the national defense strategy amid changes to the geo-strategic and resource environments.
“The end of the war in Iraq and the onset of our transition to Afghan leadership for security in Operation Enduring Freedom were among the dynamics we felt necessitated a re-look prior to the next [Quadrennial Defense Review],” she said.
Hicks noted Clinton, Panetta and Carter all have visited Asia in recent months.
“These travels provide our leaders venue to describe the United States vision for a prosperous and peaceful Asia-Pacific,” she said. “[It will be] supported by a shared commitment to the values of free and open commerce, unimpeded access to the global commons and a system based on a rule of law.
“This vision scans the spectrum of our diplomatic, economic and defense policies,” she continued. “Our whole-of-government efforts include strengthening our alliances and partnerships, deepening working relationships with emerging powers, engaging in and strengthening multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment and advancing principles of democracy and human rights.”
Hicks said the rebalancing reflects the larger picture of the entire region “including U.S. engagement with China, including military-to-military relations.”
“The stability and prosperity in this region will be shaped by our ability to work together,” she said.
Hicks explained some of the changes to come during the course of the rebalancing to the region.
“As U.S. forces return from Afghanistan and reset globally, one of our priorities is having forces present and positioned in the Pacific to assure regional allies and partners, deter threats to regional stability and prevail in conflicts if necessary,” she said.
“This includes the Army aligning specific forces to U.S. Pacific Command, as well as the return of Marine Corps units to the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force,” Hicks said. “We’re also shifting our overall naval presence to the Pacific region.”
She noted that Panetta has said the United States intends to have 60 percent of its naval assets based in the Pacific by 2020.
“The department continues to work with our allies and partners in the region to increase the number and size of bilateral and multilateral exercises,” Hicks said. “For example, just a few weeks ago, and for the first time, Indonesian [forces] participated alongside Thai, U.S., and Australian fighters in the biannual exercise ‘Pitch Black’ in Australia’s northern territory.”
Hicks said these exercises and training with allied and partner militaries are essential to the United States remaining the “security partner of choice” in the region, while encouraging others to share the burden.
“Our forward presence and engagement play an essential role in strengthening the capabilities of Pacific nations to defend and secure themselves,” she said. “Building strong partnership in the Asia-Pacific region requires us to sustain and enhance American military strength there.”