By Marcus Weisgerber
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will begin a weeklong visit to the Asia-Pacific next week, his first visit to the region since the Pentagon announced an increased focus on that area earlier this year.
Panetta will attend high-level meetings with leaders from key U.S. partners and deliver a speech at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, a forum for discussing regional defense issues and equipment modernization.
He is scheduled to meet with leaders from Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Australia and a number of other nations, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said at a May 22 briefing.
Asian leaders are scheduled to discuss issues such as disputes in the South China Sea, submarines, cyberwarfare, unmanned aircraft and emerging threats, according to a draft agenda posted on the summit's website.
In addition to the dialogue, Panetta will spend two days in Vietnam, which his predecessor, Robert Gates, visited in 2010.
"The United States has a long-term commitment to advancing a strong bilateral defense relationship with Vietnam that is based on mutual trust and understanding," Little said. "[T]his visit will afford us an opportunity to continue to work on that very important relationship."
From there, Panetta will spend two days in India.
New strategic military guidance, issued in January, stated that the United States would invest in a "long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region."
"Further developing the U.S.-India relationship is a priority for the United States government, and our bilateral relationship is one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century for the United States," Little said.