US admiral outlines challenges facing region

Admiral Harry 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".
Admiral Harry 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".ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

He urges China to pressure Pyongyang and end 'provocative' actions in East, South China seas

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 seas, he added during a 30-minute address at last night's Fullerton Lecture, organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies -Asia.

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.

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."

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, where Beijing has overlapping territorial claims with neighbours. Adm Harris, a vocal critic of China's island-building activities in the South China Sea, said the Chinese are building up "combat power and positional advantage" in an attempt to assert de facto sovereignty over disputed maritime features, and erode a rules-based international order.

Warning of the rise of ISIS in the region as the extremist group regroups after defeats in the Middle East, Adm Harris said that only through multinational collaboration would this "nemesis to humanity" be eradicated before it spreads further.

Pacom takes charge of the entire Pacific Ocean, with North Korea also under its area of responsibility. It also oversees the US Pacific Fleet, which commands the 7th Fleet and 3rd Fleet. Four ships from the two fleets had been involved in collisions in Asian waters this year.

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

Adm Harris, who received the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Tentera), or Meritorious Service Medal (Military) from Singapore yesterday, thanked the Republic 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2017, with the headline 'US admiral outlines challenges facing region'. Print Edition | Subscribe