Jun. 4 – At a press conference in Singapore on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta explained that the U.S. Navy will reconfigure its forces so that 60 percent of its assets will be deployed in the Pacific Ocean, compared to the current 50-50 split between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Six aircraft carriers will be deployed, including the majority of the U.S. Navy’s cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines.
Panetta emphasized that this rebalancing was necessary to account for the shift of power towards Asia.
“Make no mistake – in a steady, deliberate and sustainable way – the United States military is rebalancing and brings enhanced capabilities to this vital region,” he said. With total military spending in Asia projected to surpass that of Europe for the first time this year, it is becoming increasingly important for the United States to re-orient itself towards the Pacific.
In reaction to Panetta’s announcement, China will increase its awareness in the Pacific without unnecessarily confronting the United States. People’s Liberation Army Lieutenant General Ren Haiquan, who is also a vice president of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, has stated that the U.S. shift should not be treated as a disaster, as it is a natural response to its own national interests, its fiscal difficulties and global security developments.
“We must see that we’re facing extremely complex, and one could sometimes even say quite serious, developments, and we must raise our awareness of peril, and prepare to cope with all kinds of complex and serious circumstances,” Ren said.
It has commonly been opined that the U.S. pivot is necessary to counter China’s growing power in the region. The rapid modernization of China’s military, as well as a series of territorial disputes with U.S. allies, has made such a pivot necessary to properly protect American interests. The United States has made it clear, however, that its renewed focus on the Pacific is not aimed at countering China’s rise. Yet the wisdom of a stepped-up military presence in the region has been questioned, as it appears it is intended to force a confrontation with China.
Due to their strong trade ties with China, many countries in the region do not want to see such a situation play out. It has been observed that countries may have to choose which power to support in the region.
“What worries us is having to choose,” said Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. “We don’t want to be put in that position.”
Increasingly worrying for China is Panetta’s planned visit with India this week. On Sunday, it was announced that the United States and India will look to broaden defense ties during Panetta’s two-day visit.
“We’re trying to have a relationship with India that is broad, strategic and continual,” noted one U.S. official.
China already has concerns that the U.S.-Indo relationship has been designed to contain China’s influence in the region. If further military agreements are concluded during Panetta’s visit, it may increase tension and incite a more aggressive response from China.