By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE – There is no choice but to pursue a mature relationship between the United States and China, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told attendees of the 11th annual Asia security conference, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, here today.
“Our relationship with China -- we approach it in a very clear-eyed way,” he said. “We both understand the differences we have … but we also both understand that there really is no other alternative but for both of us to engage, and to improve our communications.”
The secretary delivered the gathering’s keynote address this morning, outlining specifics of the U.S. Asia-Pacific strategy. In the question-and-answer period following his speech, representatives from several nations in the region quizzed him on perceived tensions surrounding U.S.-China relations.
Panetta stressed that the U.S. position involves increasing communications between the two nations on diplomatic, trade and economic issues, as well as in the defense realm.
“The problem in the past is that … there was a large element of distrust between our two countries,” the secretary said. “I think what both of us have to recognize is that we are powers in this region … [and] we have common obligations to try to promote peace and prosperity and security in this region.”
He also noted the U.S. is working to build relationships with countries across the Asia-Pacific and encourages nations here to develop international standards and the means to peacefully resolving disagreements.
Panetta emphasized the United States does not take sides in territorial disputes, such as that between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal area in the South China Sea.
“Every time these events take place … we always come very close to having a confrontation,” he said. “And that’s dangerous for all countries in this region.”
China and other Asia-Pacific regions must develop a code of conduct to help resolve disputes, the secretary said.
“It isn’t enough for the United States to come charging in and try to resolve these issues,” Panetta said. “This is a situation where the counties here have to come together. We will support them, we will encourage them, but ultimately they have to develop … a dispute forum that can resolve those issues.”
The United States is not taking a Cold War-style approach to the region of building permanent military installations and seeking to establish a power base, he said.
“This is a different world … [and] we have to engage with other countries, to help develop their capabilities so that they can … defend themselves in the future,” the secretary said.
The United States will carry out rotational deployments, participate in multinational exercises, and provide advice and assistance to other nations in the region, Panetta said. That sort of partnership will most effectively promote security, he added.
“We will encourage that kind of relationship with every nation we deal with in this region,” he said.
Panetta acknowledged the United States and China will see ups and downs in their relationship.
“There are moments when you agree; there are moments when you disagree,” he said. “But you maintain lines of communication, you maintain lines of diplomacy … to resolve those differences and to focus on those areas where you do agree.”