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American Forces Press Service

Gates Says Asia Remains Critical to U.S. Security Interests

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii, May 31, 2007 – The United States has “no intention of neglecting Asia” as it focuses on fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global war on terror, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Gates spoke with reporters after meeting with Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, to discuss U.S.-Pacific security issues.

The secretary stopped here while en route to Singapore to attend the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia Security Conference. Defense and military leaders from 25 nations are slated to attend this year’s conference, the sixth since 2002.

Gates praised the “critical role” many Asian and Pacific nations are playing in the war on terror, noting that many have experienced terrorism within their own borders. These countries have been “strong allies in pursuing al Qaeda” and other terrorist organizations, he said.

Australia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Fiji, Mongolia, Tonga and New Zealand are making or have made significant contributions to the efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gates is expected to recognize those contributions in his keynote speech June 2 at the Asia Security Conference, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue. The annual three-day conference will be the secretary’s first, and he has a full schedule of bilateral meetings and other sessions planned.

Gates said he will summarize the variety of activities and initiatives the United States is participating in in the region during his address. Pacific Command is “deeply engaged and actively engaged,” he said.

Today he cited cooperation in maritime security and counter-proliferation, as well as a robust exercise program that includes humanitarian relief exercises to prepare for another tsunami or other natural disaster in the region. “So there is just a lot going on,” he said.

Gates noted that USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship homeported in San Diego, will soon travel through the region providing medical care.

In addition to highlighting these efforts, the secretary is also expected to touch on China’s military expansion program during his keynote address in Singapore. He told reporters today it’s evident that China is bolstering its capacity. “Our concern is their intent,” he said.

The last time Gates was here, in late March, was for Keating’s ceremony as he took the helm of Pacific Command. The largest U.S. combatant command, it includes 43 countries, more than half the Earth’s surface and nearly 60 percent of its population.

During testimony last month before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Keating pointed to events like the Shangri-La Dialogue as the key to enhancing U.S. relationships in the region.

“Meaningful and frequent engagement with the nations in the Asia-Pacific – characterized by the transparent expression of views and intent – contributed to considerable progress across a broad range of security issues this past year,” he told the committee.

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