Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s second trip to the Asia-Pacific continued on Friday as he arrived in Singapore, where he was to speak at the Shangri-La Dialogue, held May 29-31. Carter first stopped in Hawaii on May 27 to meet with his Philippine counterpart, Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin, and attend the US Pacific Command change of command ceremony, during which Adm. Harry Harris took the reins from Adm. Samuel Locklear, who is retiring. During his meeting with Gazmin, Carter discussed regional security issues in and around the South China Sea. The pair agreed that all claimants in the contested waters should “immediately halt land reclamation, and stop further militarization of disputed features”—a rebuke to China’s aggressive reclamation activities. Carter and Gazmin agreed to hold “two-plus-two” meetings between the two treaty allies “as soon as possible.” Speaking with reporters on the flight to Singapore, Carter said his talk at the dialogue would re-emphasize America’s commitment to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific and to maintaining a cooperative system where “everybody wins and everybody participates.” Carter also reiterated the US’s intention to continue to fly, navigate, and operate aircraft and ships in the international waters of the South China Sea, despite recent Chinese belligerence. Carter’s 10-day tour of the region will also feature visits to Vietnam and India.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.