KO OLINA, United States: Pentagon Chief Ashton Carter met with Southeast Asian defense ministers to discuss regional security issues and reassure them America’s “rebalance” to Asia will continue under the next US administration.
The rebalance – or “pivot,” as it is sometimes called – has been a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, with a shifting of focus away from the Middle East and toward the Asia-Pacific region.
In opening remarks at an informal summit in Hawaii, Carter told defense ministers from the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that the United States would reaffirm its commitment to strengthen cooperation on the shared security challenges in the region, including the return of hundreds of jihadists from Iraq and Syria.
“And we’ll make plans to further catalyze the Asia-Pacific’s principled and inclusive security network,” he said.
Key among these is China’s growing reach across the South China Sea.
Carter has repeatedly stressed that the US military will ignore Beijing’s contentious South China Sea claims, and keep operating in waters and airspace surrounding the islands.
“The United States would like to help all our nations see more, share more, and do more to keep Southeast Asia’s vital waterways open and secure,” Carter said.
A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was confident America would retain its Asia focus whatever the result of November’s presidential election.
“We’ve got a good thing going,” he said.