Shu Watanabe
Shu Watanabe Reuters

In the old Greyhound bus advertisements we were told to sit back "and leave the driving to us" -  in a Greyhound bus of course.

The United States has pivoted and its force deployment is concentrating more on the eastern Pacific, where the US senses a threat from an increasingly more powerful and assertive China. And at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, an Asian security summit, the United States could sit back and let Japan and India do the driving.

Japan expressed concerns that the improved cultural and economic relations with Beijing notwithstanding, China's defense spending threatens Japan. In 2012 the official Chinese military budget grew by 11.2% to $106 billion.

China watchers are convinced that the actual spending is higher and Japan's senior Vice Minister of Defense, Shu Watanabe, complained that both in terms of growth, capacities and purposes the Chinese have not been transparent.

Also speaking at the conference was Indian Defense Minister A. K. Antony, who claimed that the Chinese buildup necessitated an Indian response in kind "Even though we don't believe in an arms race, since China has increased their military capabilities and is spending more on defense, in our own way, to protect our national interest, we are also strengthening our capabilities at our borders."

The Indians also made it clear that New Delhi stood for maritime freedom, a euphemism for opposition to China's exclusive claims to the South China Sea.

"Unlike in the previous centuries, maritime freedom cannot be the exclusive prerogative of a few. Large parts of the common seas cannot be declared exclusive to any one country or group", he asserted, adding that the issue of claims would have to be solved within the framework of accepted principles of international law.

India has recently joined with Vietnam in oil explorations in the South China Sea. China, of course, objects to the presence of Indian warships in what it regards as Chinese territorial waters and what India regards as Vietnamese territorial waters.

The American presence at the conference was low key and US Senator John McCain, the Republican standardbearer in 2008,  expressed his desire for greater Chinese transparency, although McCain, echoing a recent Pentagon report, did not view the China military buildup as "necessarily directed at the United States of America."

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