WASHINGTON – The Obama administration rushed Tuesday to restate its commitment to a stronger presence in Asia after a senior defense official reportedly said that budget cuts have made the U.S. “pivot” to the region unfeasible.
A senior Democratic senator voiced concern at a congressional hearing over the comments, made by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Katrina McFarland.
According to Defense News, McFarland told a defense industry conference: “Right now, the pivot is being looked at again, because candidly it can’t happen.”
McFarland later issued a clarification that the shift in focus to the region requires difficult budget decisions and adaptation, but the “rebalance to Asia can and will continue.”
The administration has made increased engagement in Asia a key plank of its foreign policy as the U.S. winds down its military involvement in Afghanistan and contends with a rising China. The U.S. has begun a new deployment of troops in Australia, and plans to shift more of its naval forces to the region.
But budget pressures have raised widespread doubts about America’s capacity to follow through on the policy.
The Pentagon on Tuesday unveiled a proposed 2015 defense budget, aiming for a smaller, more modern force rather than a larger one less prepared for combat. Some in Congress, however, see that as an approach that weakens U.S. capabilities in a period of growing uncertainty in Europe and Asia.
Sen. Ben Cardin voiced concern about McFarland’s comments at a hearing of the panel he chairs, which oversees U.S. policy toward Asia.
David Helvey, a senior defense official for East Asia, responded that the 2015 budget would enable the U.S. to strengthen its posture and presence, “and ensure the U.S. preserves its status as the pre-eminent military power in the region.”
Suga promises peace
Japan will not reverse its postwar history as a peaceful nation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday, rejecting criticism from China as Tokyo and Beijing increasingly trade barbs over their differing perceptions of history.
“Japan has continued to strive for freedom, peace and democracy since the end of World War II,” Suga told a news conference. “It will never happen that Japan reverses the course of history.”
The comments came after China implicitly criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose nationalistic policies and perceived lack of repentance for atrocities committed by the nation’s military before and during the war have irritated neighboring countries, also including South Korea.
At Wednesday’s start of the annual National People’s Congress, China said in a work report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang, “We will safeguard the victory in World War II and the postwar international order, and will not allow anyone to reverse the course of history.”