BY BRIAN WILLIAMS. The Militant
In a one-week visit to Southeast Asia in early June, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta played up U.S. military shifts toward the Asia-Pacific region aimed at countering the growing influence and military power of China.
The U.S. Navy plans to place 60 percent of its battleships in the Pacific over the next eight years, up from 50 percent now, Panetta said at the Shangri-La Dialogue annual meeting of Asian defense ministers in Singapore. “That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships, and submarines.”
In addition, the number and size of U.S. military exercises and other naval activity in the region will increase, Panetta said. Last year U.S. forces participated in 172 military exercises in the area.
Recent advances in Chinese military technology, as well as rapid acquisition and production of modern weaponry, poses an emerging challenge to U.S. imperialism’s dominance of the Pacific. Major Chinese military innovations include the development of a new generation of stealth jet fighters and the world’s first land-based anti-ship ballistic missile designed to take out aircraft carriers.
Last year the Pentagon announced its “AirSea Battle” war strategy, a plan that entails coordinated U.S. Air Force and Navy offensive operations in the Western Pacific tacitly directed at China.
These battle guidelines are raising concerns “even among military circles,” noted the Financial Times, with some warning “that the new doctrine will aggravate relations with China unnecessarily.”
Panetta’s seven-day trip was aimed at bolstering military ties with governments throughout the region. In his visit to India, Panetta described the country as a “linchpin” in Washington’s regional military strategy. “We will expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean Region,” he stated, according to the Times of India.
A month and a half earlier New Delhi test-fired a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead as far as Shanghai. Washington, which since 2008 has been providing India access to civil nuclear technology, responded favorably to this development, in contrast to its campaign to terminate the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran.
“India’s build-up is being watched with a benign eye by those who see it as a useful counterweight to China’s rising military power in south Asia,” said an April 20 editorial in the Financial Times.
Washington is also exploiting disputes between Beijing and several Southeast Asian governments—Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam—over territorial waters and islands in the South China Sea. More than half of the world’s supertanker commerce travels through the South China Sea and it is believed to hold vast reserves of oil and gas.
Along these lines, the U.S. government is stepping up its military presence in the Philippines, which has been involved in a two-month standoff with China over control of the Scarborough Shoals. Military exercises and the number of U.S. troops and ships being rotated through the country are “ramping up,” said the New York Times. At the same time, relations between Manila and Beijing have been deteriorating in recent years.
In April Washington and Manila conducted joint military exercises near disputed territory in the South China Sea. That same month some 200 U.S. Marines arrived in Darwin, Australia, where Washington is expanding its military presence as part of its growing strategic ring around China.
Manila is also asking Washington for more military hardware, including patrol vessels and aircraft, radar systems and coast watch stations, reported the Army Times.
During Panetta’s visit to Singapore, the government backed Washington’s request to deploy four U.S. warships there, double the amount previously agreed upon.
Relations between Vietnam and Washington were normalized in 1995. In recent years U.S imperialism has sought to exploit rifts between Hanoi and Beijing to strengthen ties with the Vietnamese government. Twenty U.S. vessels have docked in Vietnam since 2003, military officials told the Wall Street Journal.
On June 3, Panetta “became the first Pentagon chief to set foot in Cam Ranh Bay,” a major port and airfield for U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, reported Agence France-Presse. He “described the deep-water harbour as a strategically valuable port that could support the U.S. military’s focus on the Pacific,” according to the news agency.
Courtesy: The Militant