Defense officials say Asia pivot still on

The Obama administration is fully committed to the rebalance to Asia despite questions over whether it can be implemented given cuts to the Pentagon’s budget, senior defense officials said Monday.  

“The rebalance is at the front and center of our national security strategy,” a senior defense official told reporters at a background Pentagon briefing previewing Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelHagel: Trump is 'an embarrassment' Tax cut complete, hawks push for military increase Pentagon documents hundreds of serious misconduct cases against top brass MORE's fourth trip to the region as Pentagon chief. 

Hagel will begin his trip with informal meetings in Hawaii with Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministers, before heading to Japan, China and Mongolia to meet with counterparts. 

This trip really is an expression of his personal commitment to the rebalance,” a senior defense official said. 

“The secretary believes very strongly in the importance of face to face engagement,” the official said. “It matters that we show up.” 

Last month, a defense official caused a stir when she stated at a defense conference that the Asia rebalance “can’t happen" due to budget cuts.  

Katrina McFarland, an assistant secretary of defense, said that the rebalance was being reconsidered, “because candidly, it can’t happen.” She later retracted her remarks.

“The president of the United States is committed to the rebalance,” the official said Monday. “The secretary of defense is committed to the rebalance.” 

In China, Hagel is expected to encourage his counterpart to be more open with China's military intentions, as well as to discuss the issue of cyber security and intellectual property theft, officials said. 

“We remain very clear-eyed about our relationship with China,” the official said.