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Panetta Works to Ease Chinese Concerns Over U.S. Asia Pivot

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in a visit to Beijing, worked to soothe concerns that the American rebalancing of forces in Asia was directed at China by offering new ways for the two militaries to cooperate.

Panetta told his counterpart, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, that the U.S. strategy of rebalancing its forces in Asia isn’t directed against China and isn’t in conflict with closer ties between the world’s two biggest economies. He invited China to send a ship to the 2014 Rimpac exercise, a multinational naval drill in the Pacific Ocean.

“Our position isn’t contradictory at all,” Panetta told reporters today in Beijing at a press conference with Liang. “The U.S. is a Pacific power and has been one for about 70 years.”

The Obama administration’s realignment of Asia-Pacific forces comes as China expands its influence in an area that accounts for half the world’s economy. The U.S. is also pushing Asian countries to adopt a code of conduct to resolve maritime territorial disputes involving oil and gas rights, which China has resisted.

Panetta said the two countries will step up cooperation by starting a military-military dialog on cyberspace because of the “growing threat of cyber intrusions to the economy.”

Chinese and American naval vessels have participated in joint anti-piracy exercises in the Gulf of Aden and the U.S. may also seek lessons from China on its experiences with peacekeeping in the Western Sahara and Cyprus, he said.

Larger Ties

Liang said the military relationship is part of larger bilateral ties and the two nations should “discard the zero-sum game mentality” of one side’s gain coming at the expense of the other. Chinese military officials writing in officially sanctioned publications have criticized the long-term U.S. strategy as being aimed at containing China.

The American military global strategy, announced in January, will result in positioning about 60 percent of the Pentagon’s naval assets in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020, up from about 50 percent now, Panetta said in June. As part of this “rebalancing,” the U.S. plans to redeploy to Guam military forces stationed in Japan and rotate a contingent of Marines through Australia, and probably also the Philippines.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gopal Ratnam in Beijing at gratnam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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