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U.S. defense secretary: No region will matter more than Asia-Pacific

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TEMPE – Getting ready to make his first trip to Asia as secretary of defense, Ashton Carter said Monday that no region will matter more than Asia and the Pacific in the next 20 years.

“Half of humanity will live in Asia-Pacific by 2050,” Carter said at an event hosted by Arizona State University and The McCain Institute for International Leadership. “Most of the middle class will come from the region in 2030.”

Carter, who became defense secretary in February, will visit Japan Wednesday and Thursday and South Korea on Friday. He will stop at the U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu on Saturday before returning to Washington on Sunday.

“I want to deepen alliances and underscore the U.S.’s lasting commitment to Asia-Pacific,” Carter said told an audience of military personnel and others at ASU’s Memorial Union.

Carter said that he is concerned with China asserting authority over disputed territory in the South China Sea, allegedly hacking of U.S. companies and boosting its defense budget, among other actions. But he said the nations need not be adversaries even though they aren’t allies.

“A strong constructive U.S.-China relationship is essential for global security and prosperity,” he said. “But our relationship will be complex as we continue to both compete and cooperate.”

Carter called on Congress to grant the Obama administration authority to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement that supporters say would boost exports and create jobs in the U.S.

“This agreement would create more of a level playing field,” he said. “It would require other countries to adopt standards that we have.”

Senior Airman Jacob Gagnon, stationed at Luke Air Force Base, said he was happy to be apart of a “very unique opportunity.”

“It’s the first time I have heard so much information about the relationship with Asia,” said Gagnon, who is pursuing an electrical engineering degree online through ASU. “I thought it was very interesting to learn about our goals moving forward with our relations and defense.”

Candace Eckert came to the event because her husband is a part of the McCain campaign and received an invitation.

“I expected to hear more about the economic ties to national defense,” Eckert said. “I was pleased to hear about the different partnerships that he talked about and he went into detail about the regional partnerships.”