TOKYO, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- The United States will keep a presence "for a long time" and does not anticipate a force cutback in the Pacific region, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
Responding to a question at the Yokota Air Base in Japan, the visiting defense secretary said, "I want to make very clear that the United States is going to remain a presence in the Pacific for a long time," The New York Times reported.
Panetta, who arrived in Japan after attending a meeting of ASEAN defense ministers in Indonesia, said no force cutbacks in the region are anticipated.
"If anything, we're going to strengthen our presence in the Pacific," he said.
Panetta called the U.S.-Japan alliance a cornerstone of regional security and stability that's critical to addressing challenges such as North Korea and China, said a report carried on the Defense Department Web site.
In a commentary in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, Panetta noted the security and economic interests shared by the two countries and their belief in democracy and the rule of law.
"That is why I'm convinced the ties between our two countries will only grow and deepen as America increases its engagement in the Asia-Pacific region," Panetta wrote.
He said North Korea's "reckless and provocative behavior" and its focus on developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threaten not just Japan, but the entire region.
Panetta also commented on lack of transparency on China's rapid military modernization as well as its "increasingly assertive activity" in the East and South China Seas.
"Together, the (United States) and Japan will work to bring North Korea back to the Six Party Talks, and encourage China to play a responsible role in the international community," Panetta wrote.