John Kerry expresses doubt over need for further US forces in Asia
By Matthew Pennington, APWASHINGTON -- The nominee to be America's top diplomat said Thursday he supports deeper ties with China and is unconvinced the U.S. needs to ramp up its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
January 26, 2013, 12:02 am TWN
Sen. John Kerry was speaking at his confirmation hearing to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.
The Obama administration has made a stronger presence in Asia a foreign policy priority. That's been welcomed by nations in the region unnerved by China's growing power and assertiveness, but has irked Beijing.
Kerry said it was critical to strengthen the U.S. relationship with China, as the administration has sought to do.
He said it would be a “tough slog” given the significant differences between Washington and Beijing, including on economic issues such as market access and currency value, but he hoped to work with closer with China's new leaders on a broad range of issues including North Korea and climate change.
“My hope is that (Communist Party leader) Xi Jinping and the new administration will recognize also the need to sort of broaden the relationship with us,” he said.
Kerry was asked how the U.S. could ramp up its military presence without becoming sucked into territorial disputes between China and its Asian neighbors that have heightened tensions in East Asia. His response sounded like a departure from the policy of an administration that has sought to devote more military attention to the region, as the U.S. disengages from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I'm not convinced that increased military ramp-up is critical yet,” Kerry said. “That's something I'd want to look at very carefully.”
“We have a lot more forces out there than any other (nation) in the world including China, today,” he said, noting the president's additional deployment of Marines to Australia over the past year.
“You know, the Chinese look at that and say, `What's the United States doing? They trying to circle us? What's going on?”' Kerry said.
However, Kerry added that vigilance over China's intentions was still required and he was not suggesting retreating from “current levels.”
Kerry's nomination to become secretary of state has bipartisan support and he appears almost certain to be confirmed. He is a three-decade veteran of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and has served as its chair for the past four years.