- Jan 17, 2010
Mark Lippert, the top defence official for the Asia-Pacific, acknowledged "everything is on the table" in terms of what could be cut, but reaffirmed the U.S. intent to base some 60 per cent of its navy ships in the region by 2020 — up from about 50 per cent now — and to increase the number of air force aircraft in the region by 2017.
"There's a strong sense within the administration that the rebalance is a priority and we'll work to make that continue," Lippert, a former top aide to Obama, said at Wednesday's conference.
Even with the cuts, the Pentagon will maintain a budget, adjusted for inflation, of well over $500 billion a year for the rest of the decade — around three times more than China is estimated to spend.
The administration is always keen to stress that the "pivot" to Asia is as much about diplomatic, economic and trade ties with Asia as the U.S. military footprint. The actual boost in military assets in the region over the past two years has been modest. There's a new deployment of up to 2,500 Marines in northern Australia; starting in April, Singapore will host U.S. combat vessels; and more American forces are expected to rotate through the Philippines.
But the political impact has been considerable. Nations unnerved by China's rise have welcomed the U.S. attention. Beijing, by contrast, has reacted with irritation, viewing it as an attempt to keep China from exercising the type of sway over its neighbours that Washington has exercised in the Western Hemisphere. Chinese officials and scholars have blamed the pivot for inspiring the Philippines and Vietnam to take a harder line in disputes over South China Sea islands.
"The consequences are that U.S.-China relations have been deeply damaged in the past two years," said retired admiral Yang Yi, former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the China's National Defence University.
U.S. allies, who are growing used to the political brinkmanship in Washington, are mostly taking the budget crisis in their stride, even as they puzzle over what it all means for Asia policy. Japan's new government is even moving to take up some of the slack by boosting defence spending and looking to allow a more active role for its military.
But nationalistic state media in China — which is expected soon to announce another hefty defence spending hike — have taken it as another sign of American decline.
"While the U.S. tried to shift its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region, against the background of financial crisis and economic decline, it lacks the enormous resources necessary to achieve this strategic shift," the Global Times said in a commentary.
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