By Larry Shaughnessy
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta leaves Wednesday on a nine-day trip to Asia to bring allies there up to speed on the United States' new Pacific-orientated defense strategy.
"Basically the core of what we are trying to do with the swing through Asia, is to give a comprehensive account to partners and everyone in the region about what the rebalance to the Asia/Pacific will mean in practice," a senior defense official said while briefing reporters about the trip.
The trip starts in Honolulu where Panetta will meet with Adm. Sam Locklear, head of U.S. Pacific Command, who will join Panetta for much of the trip.
From Hawaii they fly to Singapore for the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Annual Shangri-La Dialogue, "Where (Panetta is) going to deliver a large sort of major policy speech focusing on the Asia-Pacific (region) and the U.S. role in the Asia-Pacific in light of the new strategy and the rebalance," according to the official.
Panetta also is scheduled to meet with military leaders from Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Australia and perhaps China. "It's a good opportunity for the secretary to meet his counterparts, we'll have to see who the Chinese send," said a second senior defense official who also briefed the media.
"If the opportunity is there and the schedules can support, we welcome that opportunity, as we have in the past."
Much of the secretary's schedule at the Shangri-La Dialogues remains uncertain because there will be so many officials from various Asian nations, and nailing down specific meetings is still being worked out.
After Singapore, Panetta flies to Vietnam to meet with senior leaders from that country.
"We're going to be able to thank the Vietnamese for their continual great assistance on remains recovery and other importation issues," the first official said referring to Vietnam's cooperation in finding the remains of American servicemen missing since the war there nearly 50 years ago.
The United States and Vietnam have been working for some 17 years on normalization of their relations, and the official says those relations are "really healthy."
From Vietnam, the secretary flies to India for his last stop. He'll spend two days there meeting with top officials in New Dehli and "he'll be giving one major speech in India as well," the official said.
"India is the only country we mention in the defense strategic guidance as a partner. And we are really shifting to a point at which our defense interactions with India are becoming routine."
Panetta is expected to return from the trip late next week.