Audrey McAvoy / Canadian Press – 2007-04-18 22:37:43
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (April 15, 2007) — The new commander of US forces in the Pacific said Sunday that tensions over Taiwan are a factor in the military buildup of Guam but that the US is working hard to ensure hostilities don’t erupt.
Adm. Timothy Keating spoke during a weekend visit to Guam, a US territory in the Western Pacific, where Washington has been boosting forces to take advantage of its strategic location on the edge of Asia.
Keating said the US was working with China and Taiwan to avert any conflict over the island.
“Our dialogue with the Chinese and Taiwan emphasizes defensive posture on the part of Taiwan and the lack of any offensive posture, hopefully, on the part of China,” Keating said. “We watch carefully every day.”
Beijing says the self-governing island is a renegade province and has threatened to invade if Taiwan declares formal independence. The US is committed to defending Taiwan if Beijing attacks.
The US Air Force and Navy have been increasing their presence on Guam for several years amid a broader push to shift planes, ships, and forces to the Pacific as the region grows in economic and military importance.
The Navy moved three nuclear-powered attack submarines to Guam’s Apra Harbor in 2002. Two years ago, the Air Force started rotating F-15 fighter jets and B-2 stealth bombers to Andersen Air Force Base from the US mainland and Alaska. The base is also home to B-52 bombers.
Later this year, workers will break ground on a US$52 million complex that will host four to six Global Hawk unmanned spy planes.
The Marine Corps, meanwhile, plans to move 8,000 of its forces to Guam from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.
This is aimed at reducing the US military presence on densely populated Okinawa, where residents have long complained that American troops occupy too much of their land.
The transfer of the Marines helps the US as well by freeing Washington from potential political objections if Tokyo were to disapprove of how the troops were used in conflicts outside Japan.
Keating said Guam’s buildup also added to the US military deterrent against North Korea, which is still technically at war with US ally South Korea because the Korean War ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty.
“We’re not doing this under the cover of darkness. It’s OK with us that folks know about it,” Keating said. “It’s kind of the point.”
Guam is just hours by plane and a few days by ship from the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan Strait. In contrast, planes need 11 hours to fly to Asia from Hawaii and ships need about nine days.
Keating earlier got an aerial view of the land where Marine housing is to be built when he circled the island in a helicopter. The admiral’s visit to Guam was part of a weeklong Asia-Pacific tour that included stops in Tokyo and Seoul.
Guam became a US territory in 1898 when the US defeated Spain during the Spanish-American War. Japan occupied the island for a few years during Second World War , but the US regained control in 1944.
The tropical island’s economy is now heavily dependent on the US military and tourism. It hosts thousands of Japanese and South Korean tourists every year who flock to the island’s white beaches and clear blue waters.
Moving the Marines, and thousands of their family members, to the island from Okinawa may have the biggest impact on the small island’s economic and social life.
It will likely add some 35,000 people to Guam’s population of just 170,000, including family members moving to Guam with the Marines and workers who will likely need to move to Guam to build new facilities.
The US and Japanese governments plan to spend at least US$10 billion to move the Marines over the next decade.
© The Canadian Press, 2007
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