The head of U.S. Pacific Command said the region is focused on three major threats: North Korea, China’s interactions in the South China Sea, and the Islamic State spreading to the Philippines.
Navy Adm. Harry Harris discussed the challenges facing the Asia-Pacific community during the Japan-U.S. Military Statesmen Forum in Washington, D.C., on Friday.
North Korea, which launched its 11th missile test this year on Friday morning, is an “immediate threat to our alliance,” Harris said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has tested more missiles than his father and grandfather combined, he added.
“While I don’t know if those missiles can actually hit what they’re aimed at, but like in horseshoes and hand grenades, getting close is all that’s needed when you’re dealing with nuclear weapons,” he said.
Since Un isn’t afraid to fail in public, North Korea will continue to improve its capabilities, Harris said during the forum.
Deploying carriers, maintaining a formidable presence in the region, and strengthening the United States’ ties with Japan will all contribute to increasing the countries’ defense, he said.
Another key is China, which is North Korea’s one ally. Harris said China must be called on to do more to exert influence to stop the missile testing.
“We have to continue to find common ground with China even as we criticize China’s aggressive behavior elsewhere,” he said.
The Chinese are attempting to assert their power by militarizing disputed islands in the waterway that is also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
“Some might find it odd for me to advocate cooperation with China on one hand while criticizing Beijing on the other, but as I like to say, great powers can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Harris said. “We can’t allow the areas where we disagree with China to impact our ability to make progress in the areas where we do agree.”
The goal for PACOM is to persuade China to cooperate peacefully under the current international order, he said.
Besides North Korea, the Islamic State is also affecting the PACOM area of responsibility.
Harris said the terrorist group is expanding its reach to the Philippines after occupying Marawi City on Mindanao.
The U.S. just delivered two new Cessna-208 aircraft to the Armed Forces of the Philippine to use in locating terrorist groups.
Multinational partnerships are key to combating threats in the Pacific, and around the globe, however.
“Global action is required to stop a global threat,” Harris said.
Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.