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How US military plans to carry out Obama's 'pivot to Asia'

A US policy shift toward Asia means a greater role for the Navy. Even pre-'pivot to Asia,' it already stationed half its ships in the region, and it is developing a new 'afloat forward staging base' in the Pacific.

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It is clear, however, that the Pentagon has one rising power firmly in mind as it launches its strategic shift: China. Senior military officials have long expressed concern about China's interest in developing unmanned air systems, as well as its growing capabilities in nuclear weapons, missile defense, and advanced submarines.

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Defense analysts have noted that the Australia deployment had been planned for some time, but Mr. Obama used an announcement about it as an opportunity to send China a message.

"It was a DOD [Department of Defense] thing, but the White House grabbed it and announced it," says Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Obama's announcement also had the effect of giving the administration's Asia-Pacific pivot "a military hue," he says.

Explicitly citing China in conjunction with security concerns and the Asia-Pacific pivot raises its own quandaries, Dr. Ratner says.

"Perhaps the biggest question is, how do we reconcile the fact that we're deepening security relationships with other partners in the region with the equally important goal of maintaining a stable relationship with China?" he warns. "As we strengthen these ties with other countries, China is going to become increasingly insecure."

It is a problem to be managed, rather than solved, he adds.

"The last thing you want to have is miscalculation between large militaries," Adm. Samuel Locklear III noted as he took over US Pacific Command last year. China is an "emerging power, and we are a mature power," he added. "How they emerge, and how we encourage them, will be an important key to both China and the United States."

The US approach has included some efforts to reassure China. Panetta addressed more than 300 members of the People's Liberation Army during a visit there last September, telling them, "It will be your responsibility to help carry the US-China relationship forward."

He acknowledged, too, a "lack of strategic trust" that often leads to suspicion between the two countries.

Yet as the pivot goes ahead, the overarching aim for the US military must include not being caught off guard by Chinese military advances, David Helvey, acting deputy assistant secretary of Defense for East Asia, warned last May.

"We have seen in the past instances where China has developed weapons systems that have appeared earlier than we expected," he said. "We've been surprised in the past.

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