Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and deputy Secretary of State William Burns are all taking separate trips to Asia within days of each other.
The trips began on Friday when Donilon landed in Beijing to hold meetings with Chinese officials. Donilon was expected to try to limit the fallout between Washington and Beijing over the administration’s decision to upgrade Taiwan’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets. From Beijing Donilon traveled to New Delhi to hold talks with his Indian counterpart. It’s likely that the growing tensions between India and China were also on the agenda during Donilon’s meetings in both countries.
On Saturday, Panetta left for a weeklong trip to Asia with stops in Indonesia, Japan and South Korea. The trip is Panetta’s first to Asia since becoming defense secretary last June.
Panetta is expected to brief the Asian countries on Washington’s upcoming talks with North Korea scheduled for later this week in Geneva. On Sunday Panetta addressed a meeting of the defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bali, Indonesia. In Japan Panetta will likely be trying to assuage Japan’s growing concerns over its security situation. In a speech last week, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said, “The national-security environment that envelops our country has grown increasingly murky due to China’s stepped-up activities in local waters and its rapid military expansion, along with North Korea’s repeated militaristic provocations.”
On Monday Burns will also begin a three-day trip to region, with stops in both Japan and China. Before departing, however, Burns will give a policy speech on U.S.-Chinese relations at Texas A&M University.
These trips come as the Obama administration is trying to reorient U.S. foreign policy to place greater emphasis on the Asia-Pacific. In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote, “As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point. One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region. The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics.”
The White House echoed these sentiments in a press release last week announcing Donilon’s trip. “Mr. Donilon’s visit underscores this Administration’s commitment to growing U.S. leadership in Asia, and our work with emerging powers, such as China and India, as a core component of this commitment,” the statement read.
Panetta struck a similar tone while en route to Indonesia on Saturday. “[The United States] will remain a strong Pacific force, … and we will maintain s strong presence in the Pacific in the 21st century,” Panetta told reporters traveling with him.