Beijing should not fear a new US defense policy, seen as an “evolutionary” Asian security strategy to counterbalance China’s growing might, that will lead to a network of new military partnerships across Asia, officials and analysts said yesterday.
The new defense strategy — which will expand the US’ military presence in Asia, but shrink the overall size of the force in order to slash defense spending — was flagged late last year and is a clear sign of the US’ commitment to the region.
However, Beijing is concerned that Washington’s new defense posture, as it turns away from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is aimed at encircling China and that it could hobble China’s growing power.
Australia, a close US military ally that is already engaged in a A$65 billion (US$67 billion) defense buildup, said the rebalancing of US forces to Asia should not threaten China, or Australia’s A$113 billion two-way trade relationship with Beijing.
“The American position is very sophisticated and it’s sophisticated in directions we’d encourage. It’s not a containment strategy,” Kim Beazley, Australian ambassador to the US and former Australian defense minister, told Australian radio.
US President Barack Obama unveiled the new strategy on Thursday, saying the “tide of war is receding.”
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the military would be “smaller and leaner.”
Obama administration officials say they expect the army and marine corp to be cut by between 10 percent and 15 percent over the next decade.
Washington has said it would seek to work with China to ensure economic prosperity and security in the region, but that it would continue to raise security issues, such as the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion in trade sails annually.
The disputed ownership of oil-rich reefs and islands in the South China Sea is one of the biggest security threats in Asia. The sea is claimed wholly or in part by Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.
China is seen as increasingly assertive on the high seas, with several incidents in the South China Sea in the past year.
There is also growing concern in the US and Asia at China’s military developments in recent years, both in the size of its force and its capabilities, Kokoda Foundation security analyst Ross Babbage said.
China has been expanding its naval might, with submarines and a maiden aircraft carrier, and it has also increased its missile and surveillance capabilities, extending its offensive reach in the region and unnerving its neighbors.
“In the last three to four years, there has been the deployment of very large numbers of missiles, ballistic and cruise, and also the refining of surveillance capabilities,” Babbage said.
Under the new defense strategy, the US will maintain its large bases in northern Asia, in Japan and South Korea.
South Korean Deputy Minister for National Defense Policy Lim Kwan-bin told a press conference in Seoul yesterday that US officials had assured him the new strategy “will have no impact” on US forces in South Korea.
Tensions have risen considerably on the Korean Peninsula, the most militarized area in the world, after the death of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Dec. 17 ushered in new uncertainty.
Tokyo also saw little direct impact from Washington’s defense shift and welcomed the new strategy, Kyodo news agency quoted Japanese Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa as saying.