Adm. Timothy Keating, center, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, spoke to reporters yesterday at the 10th annual Asia-Pacific Chiefs of Defense conference in Kapolei. Keating lamented China's absence at the gathering. Standing left of Keating's was Lt. Gen. Syed Athar Ali, director general, Joint Staff Pakistan. To the right (front row) were Lt. Gen. Masud Chowdhury, Bangladesh's chief of defense, and Gen. Abdul Aziz Zainal, chief of Malaysia's defense forces.
China absent from military forum
The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific lamented China's absence at a meeting of Asia-Pacific military chiefs yesterday, saying the two dozen nations that attended were anxious to work with Beijing.
Adm. Timothy Keating said he hoped China would join the annual gathering in the future.
"They were invited but they chose not to come. We would prefer that they were here," Keating told reporters as the conference wrapped up. "We see no advantage to putting them on the shelf or trying to circumscribe them. We're anxious to engage them, and we are making every effort to do so."
China has one of the world's most rapidly growing militaries. Spending for the People's Liberation Army jumped 17.8 percent this year, the largest increase in more than a decade of double-digit growth.
The Pentagon estimates China's actual defense spending could be much higher because the official budget does not include money for high-priced weapons systems and some other items.
At the same time, U.S. military leaders have been actively seeking to expand exchanges with Chinese forces to reduce the potential for misunderstanding between the two Pacific powers. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to visit China next week for two days.
Keating said the defense chiefs gathered at the Ko Olina Resort were watching China's military growth but were not worried by it.
Lt. Gen. Desmond Kuek, Singapore's defense chief, said participants hoped to work closely with China's military to bolster regional security.
"We're not at all concerned" about China's military growth, Kuek said. "This is part of their natural need to build up their military capability to deal with their security concerns."
The head of the U.S. Pacific Command has been meeting with Asia-Pacific defense chiefs each year since 1998. The meetings are held in Hawaii every other year and in another participating nation the alternate years. Last year the chiefs gathered in Malaysia.
The leaders also discussed how they might work together to respond to natural disasters and to fight piracy on the seas.
Chiefs of defense from Australia to Vietnam flew to Hawaii for the three-day meeting, which aims to build relationships and to boost regional cooperation.