By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Aggressive moves by China to assert territorial claims run the risk of "miscalculations" but are also helping Washington strengthen ties with other countries in the region, the general who oversees U.S. air forces in the Pacific said Monday.
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"Being fairly aggressive runs the risk of creating the potential for miscalculation," Air Force General Herbert Carlisle told defense reporters in Washington. "That's something we think about every day."
The United States is shifting its military and diplomatic focus to the Asia Pacific region partly because of a buildup by Beijing. China has been involved in territorial disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam over islands in the South China Sea and with Japan over the uninhabited Senkaku islands.
Carlisle said he was concerned that some of China's actions could trigger a larger response. "It's a complex, changing environment," he said. "Every action has unintended consequences and second and third order effects."
Carlisle said at the same time China's moves were helping Washington expand its own ties in the region, as seen in a recent announcement that Washington and Manila had expanded talks on military cooperation.
"Some of their fairly assertive, aggressive behavior has in fact brought our friends (closer) and they're relying on us to be there and to be present," he said.
In some cases, those allies could ultimately wind up buying defense equipment from non-U.S. suppliers, but they wanted an increased U.S. presence as a counterweight to China, he said.
The Pentagon was working to increase rotations of U.S. troops through Asia, much as it rotated troops through Europe at the time of the Cold War, Carlisle said.
He said half of the Air Force's F-22 fighter jets were in the Pacific region; the first foreign basing of the new F-35 fighter, built by Lockheed Martin Corp, would also be in Asia; and Global Hawks unmanned spy planes built by Northrop Grumman Corp would also be sent to the area.
Washington is also stepping up its support of foreign military sales, which the U.S. weapons industry is counting on to offset weaker demand in the United States and Europe.
Carlisle said he was confident the U.S. would continue shifting its focus to Asia despite hefty military spending cuts under a big U.S. government-wide spending reduction process known as "sequestration."