The US Army is keen to expand its access and basing arrangements in Southeast Asia as part of a strategy to deter China, the secretary of the army said on Wednesday.
Christine Wormuth told a Washington think tank such a posture shift was in the interests of both the United States and its allies and partners in the region, but there was a need to be “realistic about what is possible.”
She said positioning US military equipment in Asia had been heavily oriented towards Northeast Asia.
“There is very much a desire to be able to expand our access and basing arrangements more into Southeast Asia, because if we were able to do that, we would have a more dispersed posture that would give us much more flexibility,” she told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“It is very much in our interests and in the interest of our allies and partners, to explore how we can shift that posture over time,” she said, while adding:
“But my own view is that we need to be realistic about what is possible and as we look at the operational challenges we need to have realistic assumptions about the locations from where we might be able to operate.”
Wormuth spoke at a time when the Biden administration has been stepping up engagement with Southeast Asia, a region it sees as central to its strategy of competition with an ever more assertive and militarily expanding China.
The top diplomat for East Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink, is currently in Southeast Asia in the latest visit by a senior US official.
Wormuth did not say where the army is interested in expanding its access but said progress with the Philippines in renewing an agreement allowing the rotational presence of US troops had been very important.
She said a key part of an ongoing Pentagon force posture review was looking for more opportunities to pre-position equipment.
She said it was important to work collectively to avoid war in Asia and the best strategy was strong deterrence to ensure that Chinese leader Xi Jinping “to the extent that he might think about trying to forcibly reunify with Taiwan will decide that … today is not the day to do that.”
Among the roles for the army was in “long-range fires,” including hypersonic weapons it plans to start fielding, Wormuth said.
She stressed concerns about possible misunderstandings that could lead to conflict and the need to avoid “second Cold War framing” and to maintain lines of communication with Beijing.
“We really need to have channels where we can have dialogue with the Chinese government… That’s something I worry about,” she said. — Reuters