A smart policy in the Pacific
The Kansas City Star
Last weekend, Leon Panetta became the first defense secretary since the Vietnam War to visit Cam Ranh Bay, the former U.S. naval base on the Vietnamese coast. It was a move that dramatically underscored America’s ongoing strategic “pivot” to Asia.
In a speech in Singapore a few days earlier, Panetta said nearly two thirds of America’s naval forces would be concentrated in Asia by 2020.
Given the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region, the move is essential. It began during the Bush administration with a strategic opening to India and the pace of the change has accelerated in recent months — marked by the announcement late last year that the Obama administration would base 2,500 troops in Australia.
Beijing has watched all this with growing concern and it described the troop-basing move as evidence of a “cold-war mentality” on Washington’s part. The Chinese reaction to Panetta’s Vietnam visit, however, was muted. A Chinese lieutenant general, Ren Haiquan, said it reflected the U.S.“response to its own national interests, its fiscal difficulties and global security developments.”
Washington’s success in forging closer ties in the region is a reflection of Beijing’s aggressiveness in the China Sea, where it has asserted claims over an absurdly large area and confronted the vessels of other powers.
China’s behavior has greatly aided U.S. diplomacy by reminding the smaller powers that Washington still plays a crucial role in the Pacific, most notably in ensuring freedom of navigation. The Obama administration is wise to pursue this course and deepen its ties to Asian powers.