- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2011

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Monday lashed out at North Korea for “reckless and provocative” acts and criticized China for a secretive expansion of its military power.

Mr. Panetta, who arrived at this U.S. air base on the second leg of a weeklong Asia tour, spoke out about North Korea and China in an opinion piece published Monday by Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper before his arrival.

He wrote that Washington and Tokyo share common challenges in the Asian Pacific. “These include North Korea, which continues to engage in reckless and provocative behavior and is developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which pose a threat not just to Japan but to the entire region,” he wrote.

If any changes are made to U.S. forces in the Pacific, he said, it would be to “strengthen” their presence.


“We are not anticipating any cutbacks in this region,” he told several dozen U.S. and Japanese troops standing in front of huge side-by-side American and Japanese flags. “If anything, we’re going to strengthen our presence in the Pacific — and we will.”

He offered no examples of such moves. The U.S. now has about 47,000 troops in Japan and about 28,000 in South Korea — remnants of World War II and the Korean War.

Mr. Panetta‘s strong language came as U.S. and North Korean officials gather in Geneva for talks that Washington says are aimed at determining whether Pyongyang is serious about returning to nuclear disarmament talks.

Japan also worries about North Korea and is one of five countries that jointly have tried to persuade the North Koreans to cap and reverse their nuclear arms program. The other four are the U.S., China, Russia and South Korea.

Mr. Panetta also criticized China.

China is rapidly modernizing its military,” he wrote in Monday’s opinion piece, “but with a troubling lack of transparency, coupled with increasingly assertive activity in the East and South China Seas.”

He wrote that Japan and the United States would work together to “encourage China to play a responsible role in the international community.”

A day earlier in Bali, Indonesia, Mr. Panetta offered more positive remarks about China. He told reporters that Beijing deserved praise for a relatively mild response to a $5.8 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan announced in September.

Mr. Panetta is not visiting China on this trip, his first to Asia since becoming Pentagon chief in July.