The United States will not be deterred from plans to strengthen its military position in Asia by emerging threats elsewhere, the US defense secretary said on Thursday as he prepared to meet allies in the region worried by an increasingly assertive China.

President Barack Obama, in a keynote foreign policy speech on Wednesday, surprised and disappointed some in Asia when he made no specific reference to what has been a signature policy theme of his administration, the rebalancing of US military, political and economic focus towards Asia.

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He talked at length instead about emerging threats, including by militants operating from North Africa.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters en route to Singapore, where he will speak at a regional security forum before heading on to Afghanistan and Europe, that the US commitment to Asia was as strong as ever.

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