US considers boosting force in Asia: Pentagon

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US considers boosting force in Asia: Pentagon

WASHINGTON - The United States is considering bolstering its military presence in East Asia to counter any further provocations from North Korea or any other adversaries on a long-term basis, the Pentagon said yesterday.

“We have 28,500 troops on the Korean Peninsula,” spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters. “We’ve got, I think, north of 50,000 troops in Japan. So we have significant assets already there. Over the long-term lay-down of our forces in the Pacific, we are looking at ways to even bolster that, not necessarily in Korea and Japan, but along the Pacific Rim, particularly in Southeast Asia.”

Morrell was responding to the question on the report that U.S. President Barack Obama told Chinese President Hu Jintao last week that Washington will have to beef up its military presence in Northeast Asia unless Beijing steps up pressure on Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile programs and other provocations.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also said earlier this month that North Korea’s missiles and nuclear weapons will pose a threat to the U.S. within five years.

Morrell repeated Gates’ theme about North Korea’s missiles.

“That’s of real concern to us,” the spokesman said. “That’s why we worked with the Chinese, with the Japanese, with others, to try to impress upon the North that they’ve got to cut out this provocative behavior, the destabilizing behavior, and they’ve got to seriously reevaluate their pursuit of nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles.”

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Obama urged North Korea to abide by its commitment to nuclear dismantlement.

“On the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons,” Obama said.

The U.S. has also been embroiled in a tense military rivalry in seas off China last year over South Korean-U.S. drills in the Yellow Sea, U.S.-Vietnam joint naval exercises in the South China Sea and Washington’s pledge to defend the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, also claimed by China, under alliance with Japan.

The two superpowers locked horns last year over Washington’s decision to sell more than $6 billion in weapons to Taiwan and to allow a visit to Washington by the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom China considers a separatist. The Sino-U.S. rivalry peaked when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in on disputed islets and seabed resources in the South China Sea at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi in July. The issues have long been taboo at the ARF under China’s influence.

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