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SINGAPORE:United States Defence Secretary Ash Carter is proposing to accelerate and deepen defence cooperation in the Asia-Pacific by expanding a “security network” of countries whose militaries would train together and eventually operate together.
Speaking to an international security conference in Singapore on Saturday, Mr. Carter said China would be welcomed in this network. But he also cited frequent American complaints about China unnerving its neighbours with expansive moves to build up reefs, islets and other land features in the disputed South China Sea.
‘The next wave’ in security
Mr. Carter said this security network would represent “the next wave” in Asia-Pacific security.
“It is inclusive, since any nation and any military — no matter its capability, budget, or experience — can contribute. Everyone gets a voice, no one is excluded, and hopefully, no one excludes themselves,” he said, alluding to China.
China remains sceptical
A Chinese official reacted sceptically. Rear Adm Guan Youfei, director of the foreign affairs office of China’s National Defence Ministry, said Beijing welcomed the U.S. establishing close relations with Asian countries.
But he urged Washington to scale back its military exercises in the region and to reduce “provocations” such as operating military aircraft and ships in close proximity to other countries.
“I believe this will help the U.S. play a better role in the region,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Mr. Carter emphasised possibilities for cooperating with China while stating that the US will remain the pre-eminent power.
‘China, U.S. military can collaborate’
“America wants to expand military-to-military agreements with China to focus not only on risk reduction, but also on practical cooperation. Our two militaries can also work together,” he said, bilaterally or as part of a broader security network to combat global threats like terrorism and piracy.
Tom Mahnken, president of the Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think-tank, praised Mr. Carter’s emphasis on developing partnerships.
“Secretary Carter was right to emphasise multilateral approaches in the Asia-Pacific region. Indeed, America’s alliances and partnerships in the region give us an enduring competitive advantage,” Mr. Mahnken said by email from Washington. “By contrast, China’s actions have increasingly isolated it.”
At a news conference later, Adm Harry Harris, head of U.S. Pacific Command, said that while his forces were ready to confront China if necessary, there have been few significant issues with China lately in the South China Sea.