US military to boost naval fleet in Asia

By on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

A top US naval commander said Monday that Washington plans to boost its military presence in Asia, while warning that China should expand its own forces in a “responsible and constructive” way.

The United States has expressed concerns about Beijing’s military build up, with the Pentagon saying this month that China was developing “counter-space” weapons that could shoot down satellites or jam signals.

Beijing has become increasingly assertive in its ambitions on the high seas in recent years with plans to roll out its first aircraft carrier as the centerpiece in the emerging power’s growing naval fleet.

The former Soviet aircraft carrier called the Varyag is currently being refurbished in the port city of Dalian in northeast China.

Speaking in Hong Kong on Monday Vice Admiral Scott Van Buskirk, commander of the US 7th fleet, said that the carrier “may come as early as this year,” but did not elaborate or say whether it would be fully operational.

“It is our sincere hope that as China continues to develop a blue-water navy — one which may soon include an aircraft carrier — it will employ that navy in a way that is responsible and constructive,” he added during a luncheon speech in Hong Kong.

Van Buskirk dismissed suggestions the US would cut its military presence in the region, saying there were an average of 70 US naval ships and aircraft operating in Asia daily, up from 50 to 60 a decade ago.

“Some worry that the US — with our sluggish economy and continued military engagement in Afghanistan — is weakening its position and its commitment to Asia,” he said.

“I can tell you that our commitment to this region has never been stronger.”

The naval commander also warned that the rash of sea piracy plaguing the coast of Africa was spreading eastward to southern India.

“Despite, or perhaps because of, the coordinated international efforts to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden, we have seen the problem slowly creeping to the east into the Indian Ocean,” Van Buskirk said.

“No one country can fight piracy alone,” he added.

Last week, US Navy Admiral Robert Willard warned that Somali pirates were moving deeper into Asian waters amid international efforts to clamp down on the problem.

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