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Report on the Military Presence of the United States of America in the Asia-Pacific Region (2016)

2016-11-25 10:44:45       source:NISCSS

Note: The following article is an abstract of the "Report on the Military Presence of the United States of America in the Asia-Pacific Region", which is released by the National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS) on 25 November 2016.

The United States’ military deployments and activities in the Asia-Pacific region are important manifestations of its “rebalancing” strategy. Since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the U.S. global military strategy has been shifting its focus and spending priority toward the Asia-Pacific region. In 2012 and 2013, it officially announced that that 60% of American Navy ships and 60% of its air force would be deployed in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020.Driven by the “rebalancing” strategy toward Asia-Pacific, the U.S. has gradually built up its troop deployments, forward presence and military activities in the region, and has focused on increasing military cooperation with its regional allies and partners such as Japan, the Philippines, and Singapore.

I Military Expenditures, Bases and Deployment

The proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2016 was $585.3 billion, an increase of about 4 percent over the previous fiscal year’s $560.4 billion. In February 2016, the U.S. Department of Defense released a proposed budget request of $583 billion for fiscal year 2017, which is almost the same as that for the previous fiscal year. In view of the great strategic value of the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean to the United States, U.S. military established seven military base groups in these regions, accounting for 50% of all its overseas military bases, among which 122 are in Japan and 83 are in South Korea.

By 2015, the United States had deployed 368,000 military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region, among whom about 97,000 are stationed to the west of the International Date Line. The military personnel deployed in the Asia-Pacific region account for more than 50 percent of all its overseas military forces.

U.S. military is gradually deploying some of its most advanced surface ships to the Asia-Pacific region, including replacing the aircraft carrier USS George Washington with the newer USS Ronald Reagan in 2015, sending the newest air operations-oriented amphibious assault ship, the USS America, to the region by 2020, deploying two additional Aegis-capable destroyers to Japan and home-porting all three of its newest class of stealth destroyers, the DDG-1000, with the Pacific fleet.

II. Military Activities

With the further implementation of its Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy, the U.S. has deployed more and more advanced reconnaissance aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), electronic surveillance ships, nuclear submarines, orbit reconnaissance satellites, etc.China has become the No. 1 targeted country of the U.S. close reconnaissance in terms of frequency, scope and means. According to statistics available, the U.S. made more than 260 sorties of close reconnaissance against China in 2009 and the number in 2014 was more than 1,200. There was an obvious increase in the number of U.S. close reconnaissance activities in the South China Sea region in 2015. Such activities has not only threatened China’s national security, damaged China’s relevant maritime rights and interests and undermined Sino-US strategic mutual trust, but is also very likely to lead to accidental collisions at sea or in the air, making it an important negative factor affecting Sino-US relations and also peace and stability in the region.

Regarding naval operations, more than 700 patrols were conducted by U.S. vessels and aircraft in the South China Sea region in 2015. The U.S. Department of Defense asserted that the operations in late 2015 and early 2016 conducted by “Lassen”, “Curtis Wilbur” and “Lawrence” were regular activities to maintain “freedom of navigation” while the flying of B-52 was not a part of FON program. It is noteworthy that American recent patrols and navigations against the islands and reefs in the South China Sea have been declared in high profile and with a lot of media hypes, a phenomenon that has never been seen in any waters and in any country.

The U.S. has also raised the frequency, scale and complexity of such military exercises as joint military exercises and aerial military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2014, U.S. Pacific Command initiated 160 bilateral and multilateral military exercises, arranged more than 500 senior military officers’ exchanges, and held seminars on related construction projects as well as military training and education. The number of military exercises rose to 175 in 2015. In recent years, the contents of exercise expand to such subjects as ground warfare, aerial warfare, maritime warfare, anti-missile warfare, special operations, electronic and cyber warfare.

III U.S. Alliance, Partnership and Military Cooperation

Japan is playing an important role to the U.S. presence in the region as it provides strong support to the United States in controlling the situation in the South China Sea and maintaining its dominance in Asia-Pacific. At present, the United States has more than 100 military bases and facilities, around 50,000 military personnel, and plenty of advanced weapons and equipment in Japan. In October 2015, the latest nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan was deployed in Japan to replace the USS George Washington.

In the Republic of Korea, the Unites States has the second largest military presence in Asia. In June 2015, the United States approved an arms sale worth $1.91 billion to South Korea. In March 2016, the United States announced that it had reached an agreement with South Korea on deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, in South Korea to counter missile threats from North Korea.

The Philippines is an important ally of the United States in Asia for decades. In April 2014, the United States and the Philippines further deepened their military cooperation by signing a ten-year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in which the Philippines broke its constitutional restraints and allowed the United States to use its military bases through rotational deployment. In March 2016, the United States and the Philippines made a joint statement after their sixth bilateral strategic dialogue, noting that the U.S. forces are allowed to use four air bases and one army training base through rotational deployment, including Antonio Bautista Air Base at Palawan, Basa Air Base north of Manila, Fort Magsaysay in Palayan of central Luzon, Lumbia Air Base in Mindanao and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in the central city of Cebu.

The U.S.-Australia military alliance is an integral part of the U.S. alliance system in Asia-Pacific. In November 2011, U.S. President Obama and Australian Prime Minister Gillard jointly released Force Posture Initiatives, which allowed the United States to deploy 200-250 Marines in Darwin for around six months at a time on a rotational basis starting from 2012, and to increase rotation of U.S. aircraft. In 2014, the U.S. and Australia officially signed a 25-year Force Posture Agreement, which provided the legal basis for US military presence in Australia.

The U.S.-Thai alliance is deepened as the United States rolled out its rebalancing towards Asia-Pacific. The two countries signed the Joint Vision Statement for the Thai-U.S. Defense Alliance in 2012.

Singapore is always considered by the United States as its important partner in Asia thanks to Singapore’s unique geographical location. Changi Naval Base and Paya Lebar Air Base have become the largest and most important footholds for the United States in the South China Sea region with more than 100 U.S. vessels berthed there every year. In December 2015, the United States and Singapore signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and thus the United States would deploy anti-submarine patrol aircraft P8-A in Singapore for the first time.

The United States is improving its military and security relations with Vietnam in recent years. The US Navy signed a military medical cooperation agreement with its Vietnamese counterpart in August 2011, the first bilateral military cooperation agreement since the normalization of the U.S.-Vietnam relations in 1995. President Obama announced the full removal of 50-year-long arms embargo on Vietnam during his visit to Vietnam in May 2016. The United States holds CARAT joint military exercises with Malaysia every year and helps it build radar station to strengthen monitoring on piracy in the South China Sea.

IV U.S. South China Sea Interests and Policy

Though peaceful at large, the South China Sea issue is heating up in recent years and becoming more regional, international, complex and broad. China-U.S. competition stirred up by the United States has become the highlight in the South China Sea issue. Southeast Asia is always a strategic frontier for the United States in Asia-Pacific. The first and most fundamental interest of the U.S. in the South China Sea is, to maintain “freedom of navigation”. The second one is to consolidate its alliance and partnership system. The other two is to pursue absolute superiority in maritime military capacity and to dominate rule-making in the region.

From the U.S. perspective, China’s large-scale construction activities in the South China Sea confirmed the U.S. suspicion that China intended to implement an Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, a predetermined premise for the Obama administration to propose and push forward the strategy of rebalance to the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. has made the South China Sea issue an important vehicle for it to implement its Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy. Its direct involvement in the South China Sea would increase the cost of China’s rise.

V China-U.S. Military Exchanges and Cooperation

China is devoted to building a new model of China-U.S. military relations under the framework of the new model of major power relations between China and the United States, which is an integral part of China’s U.S. policy in the new era. This new military-to-military relationship echoes and compliments the principles of “non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation” in the model of major power relationship.

Frictions and trials of strength between the two militaries over the South China Sea and the East China Sea issues are on the rise. However, this does not disrupt their high-level dialogue mechanisms and important exchange programs. Rather, the two militaries have become more open and flexible in their exchanges and cooperation on navigational safety issues such as the 2014 Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters and the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), mutual visits of warships, exchanges between military academies, joint exercises and dialogue on cyber security.

Given their differences in history, culture, tradition, social system, ideology and level of economic development, it is inevitable that China and the United States have differences and even frictions over some issues. Both China and the United States are permanent members of the UN Security Council with extremely important responsibilities for peace and development in Asia-Pacific and the world at large. Both countries want to see a peaceful, stable and prosperous Asia-Pacific, including the East and South China Seas, and to the global commons such as the outer space, cyberspace and the sea. Therefore, the two countries need to always keep the whole picture in mind, stick to the overall objective of building a new model of major power relationship, and recognize their shared interests far outweigh their differences. The two also need to manage crisis and prevent frictions in a timely way, and stay committed to increasing understanding and building more consensus through dialogue and consultation in a constructive way.