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Navy commander reaffirms U.S. role for regional security

U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Harry Harris
U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Harry Harris
U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Harry Harris on Friday reaffirmed U.S. security commitments to the Asia-Pacific, dispelling concerns that Washington’s financial constraints would undermine its strategic refocus on the region.

“I don’t think that any of that (financial challenges) is impeding the rebalancing (to the region) and actual commitments,” said Harris during an interview in Seoul with the press corps of South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

“I think all you have to do is look at the physical manifestations of the rebalance. In the Navy part of it, we are putting our newest, best equipment in the Pacific.”

Harris arrived Wednesday to reiterate the U.S. security commitment to the alliance and reassure Seoul of Washington’s “rebalancing” policy to deepen strategic engagement in the region emerging as a fulcrum of power and wealth.

It is his first time visiting South Korea since he took the helm in October.

As an example of the “physical manifestations” of America’s deeper engagement in the region, Harris mentioned a series of key military assets that have been or will be deployed to the region.

Among them are the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft whose initial deployment will begin from Kadena airbase in Okinawa, Japan in December; Littoral Combat Ships for operations in Singapore; and three DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers to be deployed in the Pacific. They also include EA-18 Growler electronic warfare planes and newest Virginia-class submarines.

Calling North Korea the “greatest threat” to the region, the commander said the South Korea-U.S. alliance remains ready to counter any threats from the communist state.

“We take seriously the implications of that (threat) to our alliances and our responsibilities and obligations to South Korea. We watch it very closely. We view the threat as a great and serious threat,” he said.

Commenting on Japan’s pursuit of the right to collective self-defense, the admiral said that it is an inherent right of nations under the U.N. Charters, and how each country implements it is “up to each nation.” In Korea, a victim of Japan’s past militarism, there has been a heated debate over Japan’s push for heavier armament.

“That modality is (that) collective self-defense is up to Japan, up to Korea, up to us and how we do is our business,” he said.

Beyond the historical and territorial conflicts, Harris stressed the need to increase naval cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.

“We value our defense and security relationship with Japan just as we value our relationship with Korea. And we don’t value one over the other. And I am an advocate of increased trilateral maritime cooperation,” he said.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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