Further US ship deployments planned in Singapore
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. said Thursday it will deploy two more combat ships to Singapore in the next two years as part of America’s commitment to deepening its military engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met his Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen at the Pentagon, and said they also discussed how to expand military cooperation in areas such as cyber and maritime security.
The U.S. has just completed the first, seven-month deployment of a littoral combat ship to the Southeast Asian city state. Up to four deployments are planned by the end of 2016.
The next ship will arrive in late 2014, followed by a third in late 2015, a joint statement said.
Singapore has agreed to host the vessels on extended, rotating deployments — one of the more tangible steps to boost the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific as the superpower shifts focus after a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The first ship, USS Freedom, suffered some technical glitches but also helped in distribution of relief supplies when Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines last month.
“We believe that the U.S. presence in our region is a force for stability,” Ng told a news conference, alongside Hagel.
Hagel reiterated the U.S. commitment to its rebalance toward Asia. He said he hoped a bipartisan budget compromise being put to Congress would provide more predictability for U.S. military planners over the next two years, and provide some reassurance to allies and friends “that we will stay committed to our allies and our interests around the world.”
Hagel said he discussed with Ng China’s new air defense identification zone — which straddles some disputed islands further north — and its “implications this has created for freedom of maritime and airspace navigation.”
Hagel repeated the U.S. call for China not to implement it or take similar actions elsewhere.
China’s new zone escalated its territorial dispute with U.S. ally Japan. There has been speculation that China could take similar steps to assert its claims in the South China Sea, where it has disputes with several Southeast Asian nations.
Ng did not directly address China’s action, but emphasized the need for dialogue “to reduce the risk of miscalculation.”
Also Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and reiterated that China air defense zone would not affect U.S. operations in the East China Sea.
Biden also expressed support for steps to reduce regional tensions, the White House said.