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US shift 'must be watched closely'

By Zhang Haizhou in Singapore and Zhao Shengnan in Beijing  (China Daily)

08:27, June 04, 2012

China has capability to 'strike back when interests are under threat'

Despite the United States claiming that its naval shift to the Asia-Pacific is not designed at containing China, Washington's strategy needs closer attention amid a tense maritime situation, analysts said.

The US will reposition its naval forces so that 60 percent of them will be in the Pacific by 2020, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the 11th Asia Security Summit in Singapore on Saturday, giving the first details of a new US military strategy announced in January.

Currently, the US fleet of 285 ships is almost evenly split between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

When asked if the shift in strategy is a challenge to China, Panetta was adamant. "I reject that view entirely," he said.

China said it would improve the capability of its forces and has the capacity to "strike back" when "fundamental interests" are under threat.

Ren Haiquan, a People's Liberation Army Lieutenant-General, who led the Chinese delegation to the Singapore forum, said on Saturday that Washington's planned naval redeployment is neither something "desperately serious" nor something that "doesn't matter".

"We still face a very complex, sometimes severe, situation. We will be prepared for all complexities. There's a saying: work for the best and prepare for the worst," said Ren, who is also vice-president of the PLA's Academy of Military Sciences in Beijing.

"We will also improve our military strategy, our national defense and the PLA's fighting ability. We will not attack unless we are attacked," he told reporters at the forum.

"We have the measures to strike back when fundamental national interests are under threat," he said.

Panetta's announcement came at a time when Asia-Pacific powers are involved in occasional territorial disputes. Chinese fishermen were harassed by Philippine warships in territorial waters off China's Huangyan Island, in the South China Sea.

About 2,500 US Marines will be deployed in Australia and there may be a similar arrangement in the Philippines.

Panetta's announcement sent the clearest signal yet that the rebalancing of US strategic focus is real, Chris Johnson, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Wall Street Journal.

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