- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell on Tuesday defended the Obama administration’s new policy called the “pivot” to Asia from critics who say the shift is largely rhetorical and lacks a substantial program to build U.S. military power in the region.

“I believe, at a fundamental level, that the process of rebalancing is a substantial effort that will take years,” Mr. Campbell said during a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China, meanwhile, recently challenged the administration on the pivot. A Chinese official said during a meeting of American analysts that he was told by a senior Obama administration official that the entire pivot to Asia could be abandoned by the middle of the president’s second term in office. The Chinese official cited continued problems in the Middle East and lack of support from Congress.

China opposes the U.S. pivot and, in state-run media reports, has identified it is a covert effort to block growing Chinese hegemony in Asia.

Critics of the thus-far weak pivot policy argue that the Obama administration is refusing to lead in bolstering security in Asia and that the Pentagon is cutting its forces sharply and thus will not be able to provide security assurances to its friends and allies.

Additionally, conservative critics have said U.S. intelligence agencies suffer from “group think” on China that has prevented honest assessments of the threats posed by China's military and other aspects of the country’s modernization.

Mr. Campbell said diplomatically, U.S. aid budgets for Asia have increased and engagement in the region is “much more substantial than in the past,” mainly through high-level visits to regional meetings.

Regarding the U.S. military in Asia, Mr. Campbell said, “I can see very clearly a strong determination among the new generation of officers to recognize the growing importance of the Asia Pacific region.”

“Early indicators underscore the determination to work in this direction,” he added, citing recent speeches by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

“I believe that the down payments have been made,” Mr. Campbell said. “I, at least, am confident that the United States understands the stakes and will make the appropriate investments over time.”

Defense officials critical of the administration’s failure to conduct a more muscular military buildup in Asia say the pivot is little more than a rebranding of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s “hedge” strategy designed to build up U.S. power in Asia. That strategy included shifting of naval forces to Asia so that 60 percent is in the region. Mr. Panetta recently announced the shift as if it were a new policy

Recent examples of a less assertive U.S. posture toward China include the administration’s tepid response to Chinese threats against Japan over Beijing’s claims to the Senkaku Islands.

After several weeks of pressure from Tokyo, the administration finally invoked the U.S.-Japan Defense Treaty to let Beijing know the United State would defend Japan in any confrontation over the islands.

Last week, the administration had no public comment on China’s threat to begin boarding and inspecting ships in the South China Sea in international waters largely claimed as Chinese maritime territory.

As for any military buildup, infrastructure development on the U.S. island of Guam – a key hub for a future U.S. military buildup – has languished.

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