NEW DELHI --
The dream of the 21st century is a world that shares in prosperity and security and peace, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
The United States reaching out to countries is the best way to make this dream real, he told reporters traveling with him in Asia.
"The United States has to look at the world realistically and not be naïve about the challenges that are out there," he said. "But at the same time we cannot be afraid to engage."
Panetta's trip to Asia is all about reaching out and engaging with partners. The secretary began his trip with a stop at U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii and then moved to Singapore to the Shangri-La Dialogue. Next stop was Vietnam, and yesterday he came here.
At each stop, Panetta spoke of the U.S. turn towards the Asia-Pacific and, specifically, what this turn means to the countries of the region. The U.S. Navy, for example, will have 60 percent of the fleet in Pacific and Indian Ocean waters. U.S. Marines will rotate in and out of Australia. American officials are speaking with Philippine officials for another possible rotational location. Littoral combat ships will rotate in and out of Singapore.
But this is just a beginning, Panetta said. Asian officials understand the change in strategy, but "we now have to put meat on the bone, which means we have to follow through with actions," he said.
Now, U.S. military officials will work with partners to improve military capabilities. "We've got to show that we can deliver," the secretary said.
Some countries in the region are worried that the policy is aimed at isolating China, Panetta said, but the United States wants to build better relations with China on all levels, including security.
"The important element of all this is that this is not about retrenchment, this is about outreach," Panetta said. "The outreach is not just to our traditional allies, it's to China, it's to Russia and it's going to be to others to try to ensure that we build better military-to-military relationships with those countries, build better diplomatic ties and trade ties to the countries for the future."
The secretary believes nations in the region have been receptive. "In the discussions I've had in both Vietnam and here in India it is very much a broad-based relationship [with the United States] that they are interested in," he said.
Vietnamese leaders are interested in acquiring some U.S. technologies and to have U.S. ships use their ports, Panetta said. "They are also interested in exchanges in regards to the ability to work together, to provide advice and assistance and to help them improve their capabilities," he said.
In India, Panetta said the ties are much stronger. The U.S. military has been operating with Indian forces for a decade and each year the number of exercises grows and the contacts between the two militaries expand. India has bought more than $8 billion in U.S. systems in the past decade. "So it is a pretty broad-based relationship as well," Panetta said.
"What I sensed from both countries ... is if they believe the United States is truly interested in developing their capabilities and not simply just going in and telling them what to do, or trying to overwhelm them with power, I think they are willing to listen," the secretary said.
"The real challenge is to convince them that that is what our intentions are all about," he added. "And I think we are making good progress on getting that point across."
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