Gates to Reaffirm U.S. Commitments to Asia

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates will par­tic­i­pate in the Shangri-La Dia­logue in Sin­ga­pore this week, where offi­cials expect he will out­line con­tin­ued U.S. com­mit­ment to the Asia-Pacif­ic region.
This is the secretary’s fifth and final trip to the Shangri-La Dia­logue, an Asia secu­ri­ty sum­mit spon­sored by the Inter­na­tion­al Insti­tute of Strate­gic Stud­ies.

“Obvi­ous­ly, he sees this as a valu­able forum to meet with his coun­ter­parts, but also to hear from the region and meet with and dis­cuss region­al issues,” said a senior defense offi­cial, speak­ing on back­ground.

The sec­re­tary will hold bilat­er­al talks with a num­ber of defense min­is­ters, includ­ing Stephen Fran­cis Smith of Aus­tralia, Gen. Liang Guan­glie of Chi­na and Toshi­ma Kitaza­wa of Japan. He also will meet with Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Mohamed Najib bin Abdul Razak and Singapore’s defense min­is­ter, Theo Chee Han.

A Gates speech on the con­fer­ence agen­da will be his last as defense sec­re­tary in Asia, and he will talk about what he has seen, what has changed, and what he has seen that remains con­sis­tent, the offi­cial said. The sec­re­tary retires June 30 after more than four and a half years in office.

“He’s going to talk in greater detail than he has in the past about what we in [the Defense Depart­ment] are doing to make that more tan­gi­ble,” the offi­cial said, “specif­i­cal­ly, in [terms of] U.S. pres­ence in the region and our own com­mit­ment, and the oper­a­tions and capa­bil­i­ties we bring to the region.”

The theme will be that the Unit­ed States is not dis­tract­ed by on-going issues and imme­di­ate-term crises, the offi­cial said. “Asia tends to be a place where there are impor­tant, but not always the urgent, pri­or­i­ties,” he explained, “and clear­ly, the sec­re­tary wants to point out that we care and are focused on the impor­tant issues as well.”

This is the first time the Chi­nese have sent a defense min­is­ter to Shangri-La, and U.S. offi­cials are pleased with the deci­sion.

“I know Sec­re­tary Gates very much looks for­ward to hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with Gen­er­al Liang about how we con­tin­ue to build on the pos­i­tive momen­tum that exists in the mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship,” anoth­er senior defense offi­cial said. Gates will con­tin­ue to dis­cuss with the Chi­nese why it is impor­tant to have a healthy, sta­ble, reli­able and con­tin­u­ous mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship, he added.

The sec­re­tary also wants to talk about fol­low­ing up on the Strate­gic Secu­ri­ty Dia­logue the two ini­ti­at­ed dur­ing Gates’ vis­it to Bei­jing in Jan­u­ary. It is a joint civil­ian and mil­i­tary dia­logue to address a num­ber of sen­si­tive secu­ri­ty issues, includ­ing nuclear and mis­sile defense, space, and cyber.

All this togeth­er is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to show the con­sis­ten­cy of U.S. pol­i­cy and reas­sure the Asian allies that even though Gates is retir­ing, “there will be con­ti­nu­ity in defense pol­i­cy with the next sec­re­tary,” the offi­cial said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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