US Admiral Harry Harris: China needs to exert more pressure on North Korea; end its own 'provocative' maritime actions

Admiral Harry Harris outlined three challenges facing the region: North Korea, China, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) during a 30-minute address at the Fullerton Lecture on Oct 17, 2017. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - China needs to do more to exert its considerable economic influence on Pyongyang to get it to cease its unprecedented weapons testing, said Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the United States Pacific Command (Pacom). Beijing also needs to end its own provocative actions in the East and South China Sea, he added during a 30-minute address at the Fullerton Lecture on Tuesday (Oct 17) night.

In a speech titled "Challenges, opportunities, and innovation in the Indo-Asia-Pacific", Adm Harris outlined three challenges facing the region: North Korea, China, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Referring to Pyongyang's recent missile launches, such as its first intercontinental ballistic missile test on July 4, Adm Harris said the alarming behaviour exhibited by the Kim Jong Un regime is a threat to the entire world as "North Korea's missiles point in every direction".

"I firmly believe that every nation which considers itself to be a responsible contributor to international security must work diplomatically and economically to bring Kim Jong Un to his senses, and not to his knees," he added in his speech at the Lecture, which is held six times yearly, and is organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia, which runs the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, a premier regional security forum.

He said that North Korea has only one ally in China while Chinese entities are involved in roughly 90 per cent of North Korean trade.

"That means Beijing has exponentially more influence on Pyongyang than anyone else, which makes China the key to a peaceful outcome on the Korean Peninsula," he added.

Though China's recent vote at the United Nations Security Council in support of new sanctions against North Korea and its own trade sanctions against Pyongyang are steps in the right direction, the region and the world need and expect China to do more, said Adm Harris.

He also said China needs to do more to stop provocative actions in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, adding that the Chinese are building up combat power and positional advantage in an attempt to assert de facto sovereignty over disputed maritime features, fundamentally alter the physical and political landscape and erode the rules-based international order.

Adm Harris, who is born in Japan and raised in the US, is known for his vocal views on China and especially its construction of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea - where Beijing faces overlapping territorial claims against Taiwan and four Asean nations - and the installation of military equipment on them.

Adm Harris' criticism of China reportedly triggered requests by Beijing to the US leadership to cut short his term, which began in May 2015.

Pacom, which is the oldest and largest of six geographical combatant commands under the US military, takes charge of the entire Pacific Ocean from the western American coast to India's eastern coast, from the North Pole to the Antarctica.

North Korea also comes under Pacom's area of responsibility.

Under its charge is the US Pacific Fleet, which in turn commands the 7th Fleet and 3rd Fleet. Four vessels from the two fleets had been involved in collisions in Asian waters this year.

The most recent incident saw the 7th Fleet's USS John S. McCain colliding with an oil tanker in Singapore waters on Aug 21, resulting in the death of 10 US sailors.

Adm Harris thanked Singapore for its assistance in the search for the missing sailors and the hospitality and support in the aftermath.

He said: "You have my personal thanks and gratitude for this incredible, dedicated effort."

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