The United States said Thursday it would maintain its "security shield" over Asia to protect the region's booming economies.
"I believe the shield will remain so that the economies can continue to develop behind them," U.S. Ambassador Frank Wisner told businessmen and diplomats in Manila."The United States is today an acceptable security partner . . . to China, to Japan and arguably to Korea," he said when asked if withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Philippines might create a vacuum that could be filled by China or India.
"We continue to be that balancing force," he said, adding that Washington would not abandon defense agreements with five countries in the area, including Japan and the Philippines.
There would be no large-scale cuts of U.S. forces in Japan despite the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union's disintegration, Wisner said.
He said Washington would welcome talks among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to establish a framework for security cooperation.
ASEAN, which groups Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia, agreed at a summit last month to open talks on security, including rival claims over the Spratly Islands.
The small group of potentially oil-rich reefs and coral atolls in the South China Sea is claimed by China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines. Chinese and Vietnamese forces clashed in the area in 1988.
Security experts have said the Spratly Islands will be the next potential flashpoint in Asia following the signing last year of a peace agreement to end the Cambodian conflict.