In a parting pitch to Asian allies, retiring US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today that the Pentagon is considering steps to widen its military presence across the Pacific Rim. He said budget woes won't interfere.
"America is, as the expression goes, putting our money where our mouth is with respect to this part of the world — and will continue to do so," Gates told Asia's premier security conference, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.
On his final overseas trip before stepping down June 30 — and his seventh to Asia in the last 18 months — Gates insisted that Americans' war weariness and debt worries should not be seen as setting the stage for a shrinking of US commitments in Asia. On the leading sources of US security concerns in Asia — North Korea and China — he made only brief mention.
But he did highlight a Pentagon commitment to developing ways of countering "anti-access" technologies of the kind that the US says China is working on — advanced anti-ship missiles, for example, that could make it harder for US aircraft carriers and other warships to operate in Asia seas.
Yesterday evening, Gates met with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liang Guanglie. Gates told Liang that he believes the military-to-military relationship is "on a positive trajectory," after a series of setbacks in recent years.
Liang said he agreed that defence ties are getting better and that they deserve still more attention.
The main elements of friction remain, however. China still claims control of waters the US considers international. Chinese ambition for influence in Southeast Asia and elsewhere still makes smaller nations uneasy, while Beijing dislikes the heavy US naval presence in Asian waters and builds up its military with weaponry only logically intended for use against the US.
A new irritant was introduced this week, with allegations that computer hackers in China had compromised the personal Gmail accounts of several hundred people, including US government officials, military personnel and political activists.
The Chinese military tried to direct the spotlight off those allegations, with accusations that the US is launching a global "Internet war" to bring down Arab and other governments.
The FBI said it was investigating Google's allegations, but no official government email accounts have been compromised. Google said all the hacking victims have been notified and their accounts have been secured.
US officials said the Google matter did not arise in Gates' meeting with Liang .