Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is on his way today to Singapore to meet with 19 other defense ministers to discuss regional Asian security concerns, including North Korea. Sec. Rumsfeld has added China to the list of topics he will be discussing with American allies at the Shangri-la Dialogue 2005 Conference hosted by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Sec. Rumsfeld is to give a speech on "The US and Asia-Pacific Security Beyond the War on Terrorism" (conference schedule). This will be an important address before a diverse body of regional players interested in the future of Asia. Mr. Rumsfeld made some interesting comments regarding North Korea, China and India prior to leaving on Friday:
- "Our policy is what it is, and it's well-known." 
- "With respect to China, it's not completely clear which way they're going because of the tension... between the nature of their political system and the nature of their economic system." 
- "With respect to the Peoples Republic of China, it is what it is. It's a big country, with a fairly rapid growth rate.... Its defense budget is growing apace with their economy, and they are a major weapons purchaser in the world, largely from Russia but from other countries as well, and have been deploying a great many ballistic missiles and ships and other military capabilities over a period of years now.... The tension will grow as they move through the years. To the extent that the Republic of China leans toward a freer political system, they will be a considerably more successful country and a more influential country in the world. To the extent they don't do that, there will be pressures against their economy, they will grow less fast, and they will be a less influential country in the world." 
- "As a matter of fact, a portion of our Quadrennial Defense Review has to look at the more conventional threats in the world, and we all know that China's economy's growing rapidly. We know it's been investing in double digits in its military capabilities, that it's been buying a great deal of weaponry from Russia. And it's a country that is going to reach a fork in the road. It wants to grow its economy, and to do that it has to have a relatively free economic system, and it wants to maintain its strong control over the political side of its government, which is inconsistent with having a free economic system. So they're going to feel that tension, that stress in the years ahead." 
- "It's pretty clear where India's going, and one would anticipate the relationship with India will continue to strengthen as we go through the period ahead...."
- "'We have what I would characterize as an excellent relationship with India. From a military-to-military standpoint it has improved in strength every year over the past four and a half years.' The military relationship, which has included joint exercises, 'has been very much leading the other aspects of the relationship, which is a good thing. We are finding many things to cooperate on,' he said. Calling India a 'major power,' the secretary highlighted its standing as the world's largest democracy, its 'relatively free economic system,' and its educated population."
What is important to note in the reports above (the AP and AFP reports completely missed Sec. Rumsfeld's quotes on India) is that it demonstrates the US long-term policy of promoting democratic India over Communist China. His comments are in line with Sec. of State Rice's comments and overtures towards India (See DEL here). The title of Mr. Rumsfeld's speech also speaks to a forward-looking US position after the War on Terror. The terrorism address for the conference is being given by defense ministers from Australia, Singapore and the Philippines. It is also interesting to note that the only other US-given speech is from Admiral William Fallon, Commander, US Pacific Command, on "Enhancing Maritime Security", which includes the Malaysian defense minister. Since the US and Malaysia just came to terms about the US patrolling the oil-important Malacca Straits (see here and here), their joint presentation can be seen as a signal to China as well.
The US is shifting forcefully its center of gravity in Asia to India with a firm commitment and alliance with Japan and Australia to contain China at worst and hopefully encourage greater democracy in China at best. Mr. Rumsfeld's speech, given his comments, will be very telling indeed of US foreign policy goals "after the War on Terror".
Bonus Report on North Korea: ABC News is reporting
"Rumsfeld would not discuss whether the Pentagon is planning for military options if North Korea goes ahead with a nuclear test. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials have said they are worried such a test could set off a nuclear arms race in Asia.
North Korea has condemned a U.S. plan to send 15 F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighters to South Korea. The Pentagon said last week the move was part of a long-planned training exercise. Also last week, Washington suspended its program to search for Korean War dead in North Korea, saying the situation there was too dangerous for the American search teams.
Statements from the North's official Korea Central News Agency have been in conflict this week. North Korea first called Vice President Dick Cheney a 'bloodthirsty beast' in response to his telling CNN that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was irresponsible and oppressive. Then North Korea offered rare praise of President Bush for referring to Kim as 'Mister' during a news conference."
The US is sending 15 F-117As to South Korea and suspending its Korean War dead operations in the North, and then North Korea praises "Mr." Bush. Could the US be sending a more clear signal to North Korea to come back to the six-party talks?