SINGAPORE, June 4, (AFP) - Defence Secretary Robert Gates vowed today that the US military would maintain a “robust” presence across Asia backed up with new high-tech weaponry to protect allies and safeguard shipping lanes.
Seeking to reassure Asian countries mindful of China's growing power and Washington's fiscal troubles, Gates told a security conference in Singapore that Washington's commitment to the region would not be scaled back.
Instead, the US military would expand its presence by sharing facilities with Australia in the Indian Ocean and deploying new littoral combat ships (LCS) to Singapore, where it has regular access to naval facilities, he said.
The LCS is a speedy, lighter ship designed to operate in shallow coastal waters. The waters around Singapore, a staunch US ally, are among the world's busiest commercial sealanes.
Gates said the United States was also considering “prepositioning” supplies to improve disaster response in the region, which has been hit by massive natural disasters like March's killer quake and tsunami in Japan. Gates, who steps down at the end of the month after more than four years in office, said the US military will conduct more port calls and training programmes with Asian countries as part of its security commitment.
The speech came as countries facing a rising China watch the US for signs of its long-term security plans in Asia, amid mounting disputes over territorial rights in the potentially resource-rich South China Sea.