‘Biggest Long-Term Challenge’ in Asia is China, not DPRK – US Korea Envoy Pick
US Admiral Harry Harris, President Trump’s pick for ambassador to South Korea, has said that a competition is underway in the Indo-Pacific region between the “free and repressive visions of world order.”
“North Korea remains our most imminent threat and a nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles that can reach the United States is unacceptable,” Harris said, speaking at a ceremony Wednesday at Pearl Harbor where he handed over US Pacific Command to Admiral Phil Davidson.
China, however, “remains our biggest long-term challenge,” Harris added. “Without focused involvement and engagement by the United States and our allies and partners, China will realize its dream of hegemony in Asia,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying countered the claim, suggesting that Harris was “obsessed with hegemony” rather than defense because that is what the US itself sought.
“The US military presence in the South China Sea far exceeds the total of China and other coastal countries,” Hua said. As for US claims of Chinese militarization of the region, the spokeswoman suggested these were akin to “a thief crying, ‘Stop, thief!”
In his address, Harris also urged his successor to keep an eye on Russia, whose presence he called “the spoiler” in the Indo-Pacific region. Together, he said, Russia and China on one side and the US and its allies on the other were now in a “geopolitical competition between the free and repressive visions of the world order.”
Today, @navy Adm. Harry Harris relinquished command of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to Adm. To Adm. Harris, we wish you fair winds and following seas; to Adm. Davidson, welcome aboard, sir! pic.twitter.com/b862a2pQKM
— Pacific Marines (@PacificMarines) May 31, 2018
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, also present at the ceremony, emphasized that although Washington “should cooperate with Beijing where we can,” it must also “stand ready to confront them where we must.”
Harris headed Pacific Command, now renamed ‘Indo-Pacific Command’, for three years, during which he repeatedly warned about a Chinese “buildup” and “expansion” in the South China Sea. In January, the admiral described China as a “disruptive” force in the Indo-Pacific theater. During Wednesday’s ceremony, the US rebranded Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command.
Trump nominated Harris for the post of ambassador to South Korea earlier this month, with the senior officer expected to pass approval hearings in the Senate in the near future. The appointment comes amid ongoing preparations for a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.