Trans-Pacific View

Underestimating US in Asia a ‘Severe Miscalculation’: Senior Defense Official

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Trans-Pacific View

Underestimating US in Asia a ‘Severe Miscalculation’: Senior Defense Official

Abraham Denmark warns against doubting America’s commitment to the region.

Underestimating US in Asia a ‘Severe Miscalculation’: Senior Defense Official
Credit: US Navy Photo

Underestimating the United States commitment in Asia would be a “severe miscalculation,” one of America’s top defense official for Asia warned Tuesday in a speech in Washington, D.C.

“U.S. commitment to Asia should not be underestimated, and to do so would be a severe miscalculation,” Abraham Denmark, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, told an audience at The Heritage Foundation, a D.C.-based think tank.

As part of its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, Denmark said the Obama administration has been solidifying alliances, deepening key partnerships, strengthening institutions and promoting strong trade and investment links in the region over the past years. Recent initiatives, from the inking of a new U.S.-ASEAN strategic partnership to the unveiling of the new Maritime Security Initiative, were proof of America’s commitment to the region (See: “US, ASEAN to Ink New Strategic Partnership”).

The Pentagon, he said, would continue this by undertaking what defense officials have called the “next phase of the rebalance.” As I reported previously, U.S. defense secretary Ash Carter had said that this would entail investing in new defense technologies; fielding key US capabilities in the region; adapting US bases, personnel and platforms, and reinforcing existing alliances, emerging partnerships and the links between them (See: “TPP as Important as Another Aircraft Carrier: US Defense Secretary”).

“There should be no question that the United States retains a decisive military edge today and that we are taking measures to preserve and enhance our conventional deterrence for the long term,” Denmark said.

Turning to China’s rise, Denmark acknowledged that there are areas where Chinese actions are clearly concerning – including in the air, cyber and maritime domains. In response, he said the United States would continue to pursue a strategy “from a position of strength” to get China to adhere to principles of the international order for the security and prosperity of all.

“Our strategy acknowledges that there will be areas of competition and underscores that the United States will manage this competition with China from a position of strength, while seeking to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding or miscalculation,” he said.

The recent U.S freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea, Denmark said, was a good example of how U.S. resolve could be used to ensure China’s adherence to international law. Despite criticism about the FONOP’s mixed signals, Denmark said it successfully demonstrated that there was “one global standard” for freedom of navigation, even on China’s periphery. It also proved the “real world application” of recent confidence-building measures between the two militaries, since the PLA Navy had utilized a defense telephone link to the U.S. chief of naval operations following the FONOP.

“China is more likely to play a constructive role regionally and globally when the United States, our allies and partners demonstrate our resolve to uphold the principled international order. The operation conducted by the USS Lassen in the South China Sea last month should be viewed through this lens,” he said.