A region of Super Powers’ chess board

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta

Looks like the South East Asia region is back into the active strategic play for the Super Power. At the on going Shangri-La Dialogue in Sinagpore, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made this announcement:

Panetta: Majority of US warships moving to Asia

Defense secretary provides first details of new strategy

By David Alexander

updated 29 minutes ago

US Defence Minister Leon Panetta, Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono and Singapore Prime Minister Brig. Gen. (NS) Lee Hsien Loong during Shangri-La Dialogue 2012

SINGAPORE — The United States will move the majority of its warships to the Asia-Pacific in coming years and keep six aircraft carriers in the region, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Saturday, giving the first details of a new U.S. military strategy.

Speaking at an annual security forum in Singapore, Panetta sought to dispel the notion that the shift in U.S. focus to Asia was designed to contain China’s emergence as a global power.

He acknowledged differences between the world’s two largest economies on a range of issues, including the South China Sea.

“We’re not naive about the relationship and neither is China,” Panetta told the Shangri-La Dialogue attended by senior civilian and military leaders from about 30 Asia-Pacific nations.

“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,” he said. “That’s the kind of mature relationship that we ultimately have to have with China.”

Some Chinese officials have been critical of the U.S. shift of military emphasis to Asia, seeing it as an attempt to fence in the country and frustrate Beijing’s territorial claims.

Panetta’s comments came at the start of a seven-day visit to the region to explain to allies and partners the practical meaning of the U.S. military strategy unveiled in January that calls for rebalancing American forces to focus on the Pacific.

The trip, which includes stops in Vietnam and India, comes at a time of renewed tensions over competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, with the Philippines, a major U.S. ally, and China in a standoff over the Scarborough Shoal near the Philippine coast.

The South China Sea is a flashpoint but, with about 90 percent of global trade moving by sea, protecting the teeming shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca is equally vital.

“Maritime freedoms cannot be the exclusive prerogative of a few,” Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony told the forum. “We must find the balance between the rights of nations and the freedoms of the world community.”

Overlapping maritime claims – often fuelled by hunger for oil, gas, fish and other resources – are compounded by threats from pirates and militants, delegates said.

China’s ‘critical role’
China has downgraded its representation to the Shangri-La Dialogue from last year, when Defence Minister Liang Guanglie attended and met then-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. This year the Chinese military was represented by the vice president of Academy of Military Sciences.

Panetta, by contrast, was accompanied by General Martin Dempsey, the military’s top officer as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command.

Panetta said he was committed to a “healthy, stable, reliable and continuous” military-to-military relationship with China but underscored the need for Beijing to support a system to clarify rights in the region and help to resolve disputes.

Video: Panetta cautions troops against misconduct“China has a critical role to play in advancing security and prosperity by respecting the rules-based order that has served the region for six decades,” he said.

Fleshing out details of the shift to Asia, Panetta said the United States would reposition its Navy fleet so that 60 percent of its warships would be assigned to the region by 2020, compared to about 50 percent now.

The Navy would maintain six aircraft carriers assigned to the Pacific. Six of its 11 carriers are now assigned to the Pacific but that number will fall to five when the USS Enterprise retires this year.

Video: How will budget cuts impact the US Navy? (on this page) The number will return to six when the new carrier USS Gerald R. Ford is completed in 2015.

The U.S. Navy had a fleet of 282 ships, including support vessels, as of March. That is expected to slip to about 276 over the next two years before beginning to rise toward the goal of a 300-ship fleet, according to a 30-year Navy shipbuilding projection released in March.

But officials warned that fiscal constraints and problems with cost overruns could make it difficult to attain the goal.

Regional partnerships
Panetta underscored the breadth of the U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific, noting treaty alliances with Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Australia as well as partnerships with India, Singapore, Indonesia and others.

He said the United States would attempt to build on those partnerships with cooperative arrangements like the rotational deployment agreement it has with Australia and is working on with the Philippines.

Panetta said Washington also would work to increase the number and size of bilateral and multilateral military training exercises it conducts in the region. Officials said last year the United States carried out 172 such exercises in the region.

(Additional reporting by John O’Callaghan; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Jonathan Thatcher)

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At the recently concluded 6th ASEAN Defence Minister Meeting in Phnom Penh, they have jointly agreed to strengthen the cooperation and working relationships and resolve all disputes within dialogues and bilateral relationships. ASEAN nations’ military is now actually an extension for diplomatic tools for and within the 10 neighbours.

The theme for this years’s ADMM is “Enhancing ASEAN Unity For A Harmonized and Secure Community” was very apt.

One of the agenda is to facilitate the formalization of the ADMM Plus dialogue, which will be an agenda of the 7th ADMM in Brunei next year. ASEAN Defence Ministers took the opportunity to jointly called on the Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie on the evening the 6th ADMM ended, who was on official visit in Cambodia during the 6th ADMM.

Last year in Indonesia, United States was invited to the 5th ADMM and the concept of ADMM Plus started to roll, where the ASEAN Defence Ministers agreed to have an ADMM Plus every three years. This year in Phnom Penh, the dialogue would be shortened to two years.

Now that the Americans were quick to flex their muscle soon after ADMM’s cordial relationship with China has been strengthened, it seems that the ASEAN region now is back active as a strategic chess board between these Super Powers. During cold war and post fall of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to communist control, the stand off between United States and China and Soviet Union was so eminent, it even affected regional geo-politics.

The symbol of US military might; A Nimitiz Class nuclear powered aircraft carrier

Several South East Asian saw the changing of regimes and domestic conflicts escalate, because of the different vested factions are aligned and being supported by one Super Power against the other. Through out 60s to 80s, hostile change of government via coup d’etat were very common. One of the most severely affect was Cambodia. The Vietnam War provided the opportunity for the Americans to use Cambodia as a tool and staging area, which provided the backing for Gen Lon Nol topple King Sihanouk in 1970 during a state visit to Beijing. There on, the Americans staged a war from the side against North Vietnam and hundreds of thousands of Cambodians were killed because of the US carpet bombings on the ‘Vietcong Trail’, deep within Cambodian jungles.

That inadvertently provided opportunity for China backed communist Khmer Rouge to grow and continue build up in secret army under cover.

Upon the fall of Vietnam and Cambodia and complete abandonment of the US by April 1975, saw Khmer Rouge coming into power. Phnom Penh was captured on 16 April 1975. For the next 3 years and 8 months, the Khmer Rouge did the most brutal genocide tragedy in the region where 3 million innocent ordinary Cambodians were slaughtered and the Cambodian economy taken huge step backwards.

The ‘Super Powers’ strategic chess board’ in the region also saw several dictators came into power. The last one ousted was Gen. Suharto of Indonesia. Before that, Gen. Ferdinand Marcos, who is a known regional Cold War warrior and backed by the US. Currently, Myanmar is still under military junta.

Now that the recovery from all of these already progressing well and economies grew, ASEAN region is facing new challenges. ASEAN was formed in 1967 in the height on regional Super Powers backed Cold War and has been resolving joint borders and regional issues through dialogues and diplomatic means. Although some ASEAN neighbours do joint military exercises on their own, the community have as a whole avoided military option for common disputes in spirit of regional understanding and co-operation.

In Phnom Penh on Tuesday, ASEAN Defence Minister also agreed that this region is free from civil war and an ASEAN Security Masterplan. The 6th ADMM also took another significant step towards the realization of an ASEAN Political Security Community by 2015 through practical security co-operation. It is a lot to do outside military initiative per se. An example is that Malaysia’s approach of ‘prosper thy neighbour’ and creating a true ‘common wealth’ for the region, will ensure that peace and stability is continued to be fostered in the region.

Probably this ‘stand off’ could be made more productive if the two Super Powers along with the ASEAN ‘partners’ work closely on prevalent common issues in the region such as humanitarian aid disaster relief (HDAR) and anti terrorism, which include anti piracy exercises and probably joint operations. US could commit their readiness to do more information sharing within ASEAN countries in their bid to eradicate terrorism in the region.

Published in: on June 2, 2012 at 13:30  Comments (14)