2012-07-05 — As the United States steps up efforts to increase its military allies in Asia, it is revealing more details about plans to shift forces to the region. Analysts say the rebalancing effort, as the Pentagon calls it, will also be a balancing act. Although some welcome the decision to shift more attention to Asia, it is raising concerns from others, including China – one of the region’s growing military powers.
Some analysts see the U.S. move toward Asia as part of a long-term effort by Washington to strengthen and grow existing and new ties in the region. But others say it is part of a broader effort to counter China’s growing military power.
Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, says that although U.S. military and other officials have given assurances that is not the case, he does not agree.
“[From] my point of view, the U.S. shift to the Asia Pacific – one of its purposes is to contain China,” he said.
Last month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced plans to shift 60 percent of U.S. naval forces to the Pacific region by 2020. He also traveled to Vietnam, becoming the highest-ranking American official to visit Cam Ranh Bay, a key logistics hub during the Vietnam War. Panetta talked about the tremendous potential for ties between the two countries.
Vietnam and the Philippines have seen a rise in tensions with China in recent years over disputes in the South China Sea. Both countries are looking to Washington for support as they deal with Beijing.
In Thailand – a country that has strong relations with Beijing and Washington – U.S. and Thai officials are in the midst of discussions about using Utapao air base as a permanent hub for humanitarian and disaster assistance.
Abraham Denmark, a regional security analyst at the National Bureau of Asian Research, says the moves are the latest in a series of efforts to maintain America’s presence in the region.
“Rebalancing is really about the recognition that the majority of the history that will be written about the 21st century will be conducted in the Asia-Pacific region. And because we’re a Pacific power, we want to make sure that we have the ability to maintain our access and influence in the region,” stated Denmark.