U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivers his speech on the "US Rebalance Towards The Asia Pacific" at the IISS Shangri-la Security Summit on Saturday in Singapore. (AP/Wong Maye-E)
The United States will move the bulk of its warships to this part of the world, as it grapples with China's rising military power and a tightening defense budget.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the US Navy will reposition 60 per cent of its warships in Asia by 2020, as part of its new military strategy that focuses on Asia.
This is up from the current 50 per cent of its fleet that is in this region, including six aircraft carriers, destroyers, combat ships and submarines. The other half of the fleet is based in the Atlantic.
Panetta said the US would also increase the number and size of the training exercises it conducts alongside its allies in the region.
"Make no mistake, in a steady, deliberate and sustainable way, the United States military is rebalancing and is bringing an enhanced capability development to this vital region," he said.
Panetta gave these details in a speech to some 350 top military brass and defense ministers on the second day of the Shangri-La Dialogue yesterday.
This is the first time that Panetta is elaborating on the new US defence policy announced in January to "pivot" or "rebalance" towards Asia, even as he downplayed concerns that the shift would raise tensions with China.
"We are not naive about the relationship and neither is China," Panetta said.
"We both understand the conflicts we have, but we also both understand that there really is no other alternative but for both of us to engage and to improve our communications."
Despite looming defense spending cuts and fiscal uncertainty, the American defense secretary said the US would be able to implement its new strategy and achieve its long-term goals, while "still meeting our fiscal responsibilities".
Part of the new Asia-focus strategy will be the deployment of the US' latest naval ships, dubbed the littoral combat ships, to Singapore.
Yesterday, Singapore announced that it has agreed to the US request to deploy up to four littoral combat ships to the Republic on a rotational basis from the second quarter of next year.
The approval came after Panetta met his Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen yesterday.
One of the hot button issues discussed yesterday was the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, involving nations including China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Panetta urged ASEAN and China to put in place a mechanism to settle regional disputes in the hopes of reaching a peaceful resolution to the issue.
"It is not enough to simply develop a code of conduct," Panetta said in response to a question from one of the delegates. He was referring to ongoing talks between China and the 10-member ASEAN bloc, about how to govern movements in the disputed waters.
Dr Chung Min Lee, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University, said he was skeptical of the impact the American defense secretary's speech would have on the issue.
"People will not change their opinions because of this one speech," he said.
"What the secretary of defense did was that he gave a very comprehensive overview but most importantly, he was able to tell the region that we (the US) are not moving out, we are not coming back in, because we never left Asia...
"It's a clear-cut message that the US will have a large footprint in this region."