The United States is rapidly expanding military ties in Asia, where President Bush is visiting three countries this week, as it fights terrorism and tries to promote regional stability.
In the most visible example, about 600 U.S. troops are advising Filipino troops fighting Muslim extremists on an island in the southern Philippines.
But U.S. military leaders and Bush administration officials also are talking with Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia about ways to increase military cooperation to pursue members of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network or other terrorist groups.
Congress has passed a bill that would establish a counterterrorism training program for officers in Southeast Asian armies.
The CIA is quietly beginning to arm and train counterterrorist teams and intelligence services of other U.S. allies, including those in Southeast Asia, U.S. officials say.
Such efforts apparently have rattled China, already opposed to American support for Taiwan and the Bush administration’s decision to build anti-missile defenses.
“If the Chinese chose to become alarmed, they’d have a lot of reasons to be alarmed” because of the growing U.S. presence around them, said John Pike, a defense analyst for Globalsecurity.org in Washington.
Relations between China and the United States have remained cordial since the September 11 terrorist attacks. China has supported the anti-terrorism effort, fearing Islamic militancy in Central Asia, and that has defused some tension.
The commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Dennis C. Blair, said recently he hopes the cooperation on terrorism will lead to more direct military cooperation with China.
“There are areas where the [Peoples Liberation Army] and the armed forces of the United States could cooperate whenever it’s in both of our interests,” Adm. Blair said. “And I would hope that the campaign against terrorism would be able to provide that kind of an opportunity.”
The U.S. military has had a large presence in Asia since World War II. It has about 47,000 troops in Japan under a mutual security treaty and 38,000 troops in South Korea to deter any invasion from North Korea. It also has a longtime security agreement with Australia.
But U.S. military ties in the region expanded substantially beyond those traditional allies during the Clinton administration. The United States began using the military “as a vehicle for engaging with and maintaining relations with all these various countries,” Mr. Pike said.
Now, during the war on terrorism, “Having all these military relationships makes it much easier to project American power,” he said.
Countries with ties to the U.S. military, in turn, get valuable help such as military training or access to equipment. Singapore, where Navy ships dock, gets a public linkage with America that might deter aggression, even if the United States makes no formal guarantee of military help.
The buildup in the Philippines could be a test for U.S. involvement elsewhere, including Indonesia and Malaysia, defense officials say.
Those countries have terrorist activity considered worse than in the Philippines, but their relations with the United States are not as close.
Nevertheless, Adm. Blair said the United States would look for ways to focus ongoing exercises, such as those each year with Malaysia, more on scenarios to fight terrorism.
Indonesia, which is barred from U.S. military ties because of human rights concerns, would be eligible for the counterterrorism training assistance approved by Congress.