WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Ash Carter will travel to Japan and South Korea next week on his first trip to the Asia-Pacific region since becoming Pentagon chief, working to boost the U.S. strategic rebalance to the region, the department said on Friday.
The trip, which begins on Monday, is one of two trips Carter plans to make to the region over the next two months. In May, he will visit Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, where he will meet partners from Southeast Asia, and then travel on to India.
The visits come at a time of tensions in the region as China and its closest neighbours jockey for control of resources in the contested waters, reefs and islands of the South China and East China seas. The United States has urged China and its neighbours to resolve their maritime and territorial disputes peacefully.
Carter will stop at Arizona State University on the first leg of his journey to speak to students about the links between national security and economic security, the Pentagon said in a statement.
He also will discuss the administration's plans to push ahead with the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific that President Barack Obama announced in his 2012 defence strategic guidance. The rebalance called for an intensified focus on the region by the Pentagon as well as other government agencies.
Carter arrives in Japan late on Tuesday and will meet Japanese leaders on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss bilateral security and other issues ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Washington at the end of April.
The U.S. defence chief will arrive in Seoul on Thursday and will meet with senior government officials on Friday to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to South Korea's security. Carter will visit senior U.S. military leaders in the Pacific during a visit to Pacific Command in Hawaii on Saturday, the Pentagon said.
Reporting by David Alexander