WASHINGTON — Rather than building more bases, the United States wants to strengthen ties with Asia-Pacific allies and increasingly operate out of their bases as U.S. forces rotate through the region, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific said on Friday.
In his first Pentagon press briefing, Adm. Samuel Locklear, installed in March as head of U.S. Pacific Command, fielded questions about the United States’ much-heralded rebalancing, or “pivot,” toward increased emphasis on Pacific.
“We’re not really interested in building any more U.S. bases in the Asia-Pacific,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to at this point in time.”
Joint exercises like one later this month in international waters south of the Korean peninsula will help build “interoperability” between allied militaries, increasing their joint effectiveness, he said. In the first-of-its kind trilateral exercise, the United States, Japan and South Korea will practice security and humanitarian responses, officials have said.
Driven by increasingly vigorous Chinese assertions of territorial and maritime rights, as well as growing Chinese military strength, countries of the region ranging from Vietnam to Indonesia have sought closer ties with the United States.
China and a number of other countries around the world make excessive maritime claims, Locklear said, which collectively could restrict access to more than one-third of the total area of the world’s oceans and complicate passage through straits important to global commerce.
But Locklear, who will meet with his Chinese military counterparts in the coming weeks, said the ascendant Asian power appears open to working with the U.S. on security matters.
“We are going to cont to work on our military-to-military relations with China,” he said. “Because it’s so important that as China emerges, that we understand each other, that we prevent miscalculation as we go forward.”