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Robert Gates heads to Asia for annual security talks

The Shangri-la Dialogue from May 30-June 1, has been dominated in past years by US concerns over China's military buildup.

world Updated: May 28, 2008 09:26 IST

US Defense Secretary of Defense Robert Gates departs for Asia on Wednesday for an annual security conference being held this year against the backdrop of massive natural disasters in China and Myanmar.

The Shangri-la Dialogue, which will bring top officials and experts from across the Asia-Pacific region to Singapore from May 30-June 1, has been dominated in past years by US concerns over China's military buildup.

But the death of tens of thousands of people in an earthquake in China and a cyclone in Myanmar seem likely to highlight the need for greater regional cooperation.

While US doubts about China's intentions have not abated, Gates has taken a less confrontational approach toward Beijing than his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.

At the same time, he has encouraged the US military to strengthen defense ties with regional powers like India and Indonesia as a hedge against China.

"Gates has a tough line to balance here. He needs to be clear that the US are conscious of these threats. He needs to press the Chinese to be transparent," said Michael Green, who served as Asian affairs director at the National Security Council from 2004-2005.

"But he doesn't want to provoke a confrontation with China at a time when the US is very busy in Iraq and China is very busy with earthquakes," he said.

An annual Pentagon report to Congress said China is developing the means to project military power and deny the US military access to the region, particularly in a conflict with Taiwan.