Shanahan en route to Asia, for big debut on the world stage

Shanahan en route to Asia, for big debut on the world stage

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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan participates in the U.S. Naval Academy's 2019 graduation and commissioning ceremony Friday in Annapolis, Md. (Sgt. Amber I. Smith/U.S. Army)

WASHINGTON — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan today heads for his first big meeting since being nominated for the full post, his debut on the international stage coming as war drums continue to beat on Iran.

Shanahan is to arrive in Indonesia Wednesday to meet with counterparts, stopping first today in Hawaii. He then will travel to Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

In Singapore, Shanahan attends the Shangri-La Dialogue, one of the premier inter-governmental security forums, sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Participants include defense and other ministers from of 28 Asia-Pacific states, and well as other nations including the United States. The event gets its name from the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, the forum’s locale since 2002.

Shanahan is expected to announce the Pentagon’s new strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, Pentagon officials told reporters.

He takes the trip as tensions continue to drive Pentagon strategy for Iran, with 1,500 troops designated on Friday for defense purproses, Pentagon officials said.  Shanahan has said the U.S. build up “put on hold” Iranian threats to U.S. troops in that region.

The state of U.S.-China relations is expected to dominate the event. According to news reports, China is sending one of its highest level delegations in years to the forum, including defense minister Gen. Wei Fenghe.

Shanahan and Wei are likely to have a “pull aside” meeting during the forum, Pentagon officials said. That means a meeting not on the formal schedule.

Shanahan may get a warm welcome in Japan, his last stop on the trip. The Japanese media has been lauding Shanahan for encouraging graduates of the Naval Academy to embrace the mantra of Japanese samurai in their service.

“If you ever studied the samurai culture in feudal Japan, you know the most feared, most dangerous of all samurai were those who had felt the cut of their opponent’s sword, and lived to fight the next battle,” Shanahan said Friday during commencement ceremonies. “Why? Because they no longer feared the sword. They could — and would — press the fight, knowing the danger but unafraid of it.”

Shanahan became acting defense secretary on Jan. 1, following the resignation of James Mattis. Shanahan had served as deputy defense secretary since July 2017 after being an executive at Boeing.

Shanahan’s confirmation hearing is expected in June, before Congress leaves for its formal summer recess. No date has been scheduled as the formal nomination paperwork has not yet been received by the Senate, which must vote on the nomination.

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