2012-04-05 (China Military News cited from japantimes.co.jp and by ICHAEL RICHARDSON) — The pieces of a new strategic kaleidoscope in the Asia-Pacific region are starting to fall into place as allies and security partners of the United States seek to deter China from using or threatening force to achieve its expansive aims, particularly in the South China Sea, which forms the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.
A contingent of about 200 U.S. Marines will soon arrive in Darwin, northern Australia. They are the forerunners of a bigger force of up to 2,500 marines agreed in November by leaders of the two allies.
Singapore has offered basing facilities to several high-speed Littoral Combat Ships being brought into service with the U.S. Navy, while U.S. ally the Philippines is negotiating with Washington to hold more military training exercises with the U.S. in the Philippines and increase U.S. Navy access to Philippine ports.
Vietnam is in the midst of a major military buildup to protect its interests in the South China Sea, following similar moves by Malaysia.
The U.S. Marines will rotate through bases in northern Australia for training and exercises, underscoring what President Barack Obama said was U.S. determination to play a larger and long-term role in shaping the region and its future, despite looming hefty cuts in America’s defense budget.
Obama reaffirmed in South Korea recently that reductions in defense spending would not come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific. “America’s armed forces are going to stay ready for the full range of contingencies and threats,” he said.
Japan and the U.S. are expected to finalize an agreement later this month to relocate 4,700 U.S. Marines from the Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam, a U.S. territory and major military base in the western Pacific.
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the new force layout would divide the Marine Corps command, ground force, air and logistic units into an arc of bases forming a flank along the eastern seaboard of China.
Marines are the spearhead of U.S. forces deployed in the Asia-Pacific region. The Yomiuri said that spreading them more widely across the region was designed to make any foreign attack on their bases more difficult, counter the growing military strength of China, and better prepare for any future disaster relief and humanitarian aid efforts.
The U.S. is also realigning its forces in the western Pacific to focus more of them on maintaining stability in Southeast Asia and protecting the shipping and energy supply lines that run through the Indian Ocean to East Asian economies that are key drivers of global growth.