Washington: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has emphasised the importance of having a strong American naval presence in Asia.
Addressing naval graduates at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Panetta said the future of the US depended on ensuring security throughout the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
“America is a maritime nation and we are returning to our maritime roots,” the BBC quoted Panetta, as saying, who is due to travel to Vietnam, India and Singapore for a security summit.
He claimed that the US should strengthen existing ties with Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines, and form "robust partnerships" with South East Asian nations.
"One of the key projects that your generation will have to face is sustaining and enhancing American strength across the great maritime region of the Asia-Pacific," he told the new naval officers.
The Pentagon chief also spoke about the need to ``strengthen defence ties with China, even as its military is ``growing and modernising``.
``We must be vigilant. We must be strong. We must be prepared to confront any challenge," he said.
However, he also added that it was important to develop a new era of military co-operation with China, in which both countries ``share security burdens in order to advance peace in the Asia-Pacific and around the world.``
Panetta said that he will visit China later this year, which would be his first trip as defence secretary.