US House committee backs the pivot to Asia
US lawmakers have voiced bipartisan support for the Obama administration's strategic pivot to Asia but stressed the need for partner nations to strengthen their own military capabilities and to contribute more to their own defence.
Members of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee plan to step up scrutiny of military policy in the region, where despite budget pressure, Washington wants to increase its presence as it draws down forces in Afghanistan.
Lawmakers said this week they plan a wide-ranging examination of US force deployments and how to optimise security relationships. They plan a series of five hearings between now and early 2014, mostly focused on the growing military power of China.
Congress does not set US foreign policy but it can influence it and controls the purse strings. The lawmakers said part of the committee's intent was to explain to the rest of Congress and the American public about the strategic importance of the US remaining engaged in the Asia-Pacific region.
"The biggest thing for us is presence. If we have presence there it's the greatest stability you can have in that region," said Republican congressman Randy Forbes, one of six lawmakers briefing reporters this week the upcoming hearings.
Democratic congressman Adam Smith said the committee would look at how the US can guarantee its alliance commitments with nations such as South Korea, and Japan and others while building on its many other relationships in the region.
"One of the keys to making this work is partner capacity," he said, citing as an example US counterinsurgency support for Philippine forces fighting Islamic rebels. "What other options are out there to build capacity in forces so it doesn't all fall on us?"
But Smith also advocated cooperation with China, which views the US pivot as an attempt to encircle and crimp its emerging power. Smith said China should be viewed as a partner that could work with the US on North Korea, the transition in Afghanistan and other issues.
Democratic congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa said the US must be more mindful of historical conflicts between its allies and recognise that it can't solve them.