- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2013

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will depart Thursday on a tour of Southeast Asia to meet with U.S. allies increasingly concerned over China’s aggressive pursuit of its maritime territorial claims.

Mr. Hagel will visit Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines during the eight-day trip, with a meeting of defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next week serving as the capstone for his itinerary.

The 10 ASEAN nations are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Mr. Hagel will begin his trip in Honolulu, where he will meet with Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, and visit with Marines at Kaneohe Bay, Defense Department spokesman George Little said.

The trip originally WAS announced by officials Tuesday as Mr. Hagel and Gen. Chang Wanquan, the Chinese defense minister, met at the Pentagon.

Both sides touted progress in U.S.-China military relations after the meeting. But Gen. Chang made clear that China would continue to staunchly defend its “core interests” and assert what it calls its “maritime rights” over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

ASEAN states have been trying for more than a decade to secure agreement from China on a legally binding code of conduct for the sea.

Gen. Chang and Mr. Hagel will meet again next week, when both will be in Brunei for the ASEAN defense ministers summit.