Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter is traveling to Asia to meet with U.S. allies and partners and continue defense consultations on a range of common security challenges.
Carter will visit defense and government officials in Yokota, Japan; Seoul, South Korea; Manila, the Philippines; and Jakarta, Indonesia.
In Jakarta he will hold bilateral meetings, attend a dinner with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’, or ASEAN’s, Council of Permanent Representatives, and attend for the first time as deputy defense secretary the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue, the official said.
Carter’s trip began a day after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a series of steps the United States will take to stay ahead of challenges posed by North Korea’s and Iran’s development of long-range ballistic missile capabilities.
“The United States has missile defense systems in place to protect us from limited [intercontinental ballistic missile] attacks, Hagel said during a briefing at the Pentagon. “But North Korea in particular has recently made advances in its capabilities and is engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations.”
During Carter’s meeting at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo with Senior Vice Defense Minister Akinori Eto, a defense official said they will discuss the situation in North Korea.
“It’s the first engagement we’ve had with [the Japanese] in this role,” he said, “and it’s a very good opportunity for the deputy to [discuss] a number of issues following on the very successful visit” by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with President Barack Obama at the White House Feb. 22.
Carter and Eto may also discuss bilateral missile defense issues; the situation in Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islands controlled by Japan in the East China Sea and the focus of a territorial dispute between Japan and China; and the relocation of the Marines to the Futenma replacement facility.
A 2006 roadmap signed by Japan and the United States would relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, now in the center of Okinawa’s Ginowan City, to a more remote area of the island. Futenma is about seven miles from Kadena Air Base.
On Monday in Seoul, the defense official said, issues to be discussed include the situation in North Korea, the U.S. domestic issue of sharp mandated budget cuts called sequestration and its impact on the DOD rebalance to the Asia Pacific, and potential discussion about Hagel’s missile defense announcement.
Bilateral issues may include Korean investments in defense capabilities such as command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, the official said.
Other bilateral discussions may focus on the ongoing military exercises Key Resolve, an annual computer simulation exercise that began March 11 and ends March 21, and Foal Eagle, a combined and joint field training exercise that runs across the Korean Peninsula from March 1 to April 30.
“The deputy will be traveling down to one of the combat outposts to observe the exercises,” the defense official said.
“On the policy side he’ll have very good meetings with [South Korea’s] minister of defense, foreign minister and national security adviser,” he added, noting, “It’s a good blend of policy operational issues in a strategic context that’s clouded or colored by the North Korean provocations.”
On Tuesday in Manila, the official said, “We’re looking to have good meetings with … the foreign secretary, the defense secretary and other officials.”
Calling the Philippines an important treaty ally, the official said the United States and the Philippines have had several recent senior-level engagements, including meetings between the nations’ presidents over the last few years, and a historic “two-plus-two” meeting in Washington last April between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and their Philippine counterparts, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin.
“All of that has facilitated real progress … across an array of issues, not just on the defense side but on the foreign policy side,” the official said, adding that the United States seeks “a full partnership in this very important relationship and our main goal is to keep the momentum going.”
On Wednesday in Jakarta, his last stop in Asia, Carter will have a chance to talk with ASEAN members during a dinner of the ASEAN Council of Permanent Representatives. ASEAN was formed in 1967. Its member states are Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Discussions there could include upcoming exercises related to the ASEAN Defense Ministers-Plus, and an effort to produce and gain acceptance of a code of conduct to untangle territorial conflicts in the South China Sea.
The ADMM-Plus is made up of ASEAN members and its dialogue partners: the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, New Zealand and Russia.
Afterward, Carter will hold a bilateral meeting with Indonesia, “a very important strategic partner in Southeast Asia,” the official said.
Next, the deputy defense secretary will attend day one of the two-day Jakarta International Defense Dialogue, called the JIDD, a multilateral setting for a number of different countries to come together and discuss defense and diplomacy.
“This represents a major step up in terms of U.S. participation,” the defense official said. “Last year we sent a deputy assistant secretary and this year, in order to demonstrate strong and continuing commitment to the rebalance toward Asia, the deputy thought it was very important for him to participate in this event.”
The official added, “We’ll be eagerly awaiting a speech by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as well as Dr. Carter’s own remarks as part of a panel that is likely to include a senior Chinese representative, defense ministers from Singapore and Indonesia,” and possibly others, the official said.
“It’s a key place to mingle, to mix, to exchange views,” he added.
At a lunch for heads of delegations, Carter will be able to talk informally with all participants, the official said.
“It’s a very good opportunity to talk about the rebalance, to talk about the U.S. role in Southeast Asia, and to talk a little about global events and how they impact or influence all the issues in Southeast Asia.