Pacom commander: Rebalance to Asia-Pacific 'being realized'
WASHINGTON, February 25, 2016 — The U.S. military’s strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is “real and being realized,” the commander of U.S. Pacific Command told Pentagon reporters today.
After testifying before House and Senate committees this week, Navy Adm. Harry Harris Jr. said he appreciated “the opportunity to go on the record about America’s rebalance,” adding that it cannot take place quickly enough in his area of responsibility, which covers 36 nations and half the globe.
The rebalance to the region comprises four components, he said: economic, political, military and diplomatic.
“I've always said the most visible component is the military, because you can see an aircraft carrier, or joint strike fighter, or all of the other things that we're sending out to the Pacific,” he added.
The Navy and Air Force want to have 60 percent of their forces in the region by 2020, and because the Navy’s presence is nearly at 50 percent today, “we’re proceeding apace,” Harris said. “It’s a well-thought-out strategy in my opinion, and I think we’re moving right along at the proper timeline,” he added.
Navigation Ops Must Continue
In the meantime, Harris emphasized, the United States must continue to exercise its rights of freedom in maritime and airspace navigation in international waters in the region, such as in the South China Sea.
“This is nothing new for the United States,” the admiral told reporters. “We've been doing freedom-of-navigation operations around the world for decades, [and] we'll continue to do them … with increasing complexity as we move forward.”
The Pacom commander said the United States also must encourage its like-minded network of nations in the Asia-Pacific region to exercise their freedoms of navigation.
China Militarizing South China Sea
Harris noted that he told both the Senate and the House this week that he believes China is militarizing the South China Sea. The Chinese are adding advanced fighters and advanced missile systems, he added, and have built three 10,000-foot-long runways on islands they say they’ve reclaimed, he added.
“I'll pay attention to the threat. But that is not going to prevent us from flying, sailing or operating wherever international law allows,” he said.
“The United States and our patrols -- military patrols, air and maritime, in the South China Sea -- haven't really changed,” Harris said. “We have a consistent presence in the western Pacific, and we have had that for decades.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)