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The zone’s establishment was an unprecedented move by Beijing, whose leaders have been more prone to make a show of their expanding military might.

For example, China’s Defense Ministry confirmed this week that the nation’s weapons designers recently conducted the first test of an ultra-high-speed missile vehicle, a cutting-edge technology that presumably could challenge U.S. operations in the Pacific.

The Washington Free Beacon reported Wednesday that the ministry had faxed a two-sentence statement to news agencies and state-run media in Beijing to confirm the flight test of a hypersonic glide vehicle, dubbed the WU-14 by the Pentagon.

Such developments add heat to the debate among foreign policy and national security insiders in Washington over the extent to which the U.S. is on course to respond effectively to China, or is at risk of seeing its influence rolled back in the Pacific.

“We need to think about all scenarios, not just the ones we’ve been dealing with over the last several years where we’ve enjoyed basic air superiority and basic sea superiority,” Adm. Locklear said Wednesday. “There are places in the world where in this century we won’t have them.”

Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s press secretary, said Thursday that the secretary is committed to a “position of strength” in the Pacific.

“The secretary understands the larger point Adm. Locklear is making concerning the relative growth in capabilities of certain states in the region,” Adm. Kirby said. “There are very real challenges we face in that part of the world, very real capabilities we need to be able to field. He also believes that America’s continued leadership and influence in the region remains vital, and he is committed, from a military perspective, to maintaining that position of strength.”

President Obama pledged on Jan. 5, 2012, that his strategy would put more military muscle in Asia.

“We will be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific, and budget reductions will not come at the expense of that critical region,” the president said.

As defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta declared: “The U.S. military will increase its institutional weight and focus on enhanced presence, power projection, and deterrence in Asia Pacific.”

The plan is to have about 60 percent of Navy ships dedicated to the Pacific by 2020. Of 11 active aircraft carriers, six would be committed to the region.

Critics contend that the strategic pivot is not working because the Navy fleet is shrinking while the Chinese navy expands.

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, recently told The Washington Times that the U.S. is facing “a long game” when it comes to China.

Developments such as Beijing’s air defense zone may be “small tactical gambits,” Mr. Cronin said. But if the U.S. does not “respond and we don’t remain strong, then China will unilaterally redefine the region in a way that we do not recognize.”

According to the Defense News report, Adm. Locklear said Washington’s focus on the Middle East over the past 20 years has detracted from U.S. military needs in the Pacific.

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