“The greatest threat I face on a day-to-day basis is North Korea,” the commander of Pacific Command said Friday to the Washington annual conference of Military Reporters and editors.
“At some point in the future, as [Kim Jong Un] develops his capabilities he will present a threat to Hawaii and the United States,” Adm. Harry Harris said. He added the command will be ready to act.
As other regional commanders and the Joint Chiefs have said, Russia is the largest global challenge. In the Pacific, Harris pointed to its long coastline with large naval installations including ballistic missile submarine bases as airfield. “PACOM forces watch the Russians closely.”
Harris said the rebalancing to the Indo-Pacific “isn’t about China; it’s about us.” The rebalancing involves more than the military where now about 56 percent of naval forces are assigned as being the most visible activity, but also includes political rebalancing and economic rebalancing. The region has the three largest economies as well as the five smallest and five nations possessing nuclear weapons.
On the military side, Harris said, “The United States will fly and sail anywhere international law allows.” He described Beijing’s fortifying coral reefs and building air strips on them as, “Chinese sand castles in the sky.”
In answer to a question, Harris said “I am very aware of Chinese ballistic missile submarines” and improvements being made in those vessels.
Harris also cited examples of cooperation with the Chinese in counter-piracy operations and the search for the missing Malaysian airline. He also mentioned the recent incidents at sea agreement with the Chinese that came out or recent discussions in Washington.
“We’re seeing Chinese coast guard behavior improving… [but] at the same time they are building a ship [for its coast guard] bigger than our Arleigh Burke destroyer,” he said.
The United States “has a burgeoning relationship with India,” he said. “Our destinies [as democracies] are linked.” Both the United States and the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi see the closer ties between the two nations as a strategic opportunity.
Harris said this is “a very exciting time for the Japanese-U.S. alliance” as Tokyo redefines its role in global affairs. He also saw this as a time with more United States, Japan and Republic of Korea exercises.
“Australia and the United States share a world view” and are training together more often.
“The foundation of our security is economic.” He said the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement, “will help reduce regional instability.”