PACOM chief shouldn’t misguide Trump

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/17 0:33:39

Addressing the Defense One Summit kickoff on Tuesday, Harry B. Harris Jr., the commander of US Pacific Command (PACOM), said that the US has never had a "lame duck commander in chief" and that no one should doubt the US resolve to defend national security and interests. According to VOA Chinese, he vowed the US army will take military actions and win the war if necessary. Harris said the military-to-military relationship with China is on one level actually good, but expressed his concerns over China's "assertiveness" in the South and East China Seas, claiming China is "seeking hegemony in East Asia."

This is the toughest call coming from the US made with regard to the Asia-Pacific situation since Donald Trump was elected president. Harris has been one of the core figures in the US Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy. He keeps on emphasizing the threat China poses to peace in the Asia-Pacific region and showcases the decisive role of the Pacific Command in containing China's ambition. He has played a key role in stimulating strategic tension in the region and guiding the US to strengthen its military alliance system to confront China.

Trump during the election campaign promoted a relatively contrasting strategy. He has more interest in boosting the domestic US economy than launching geopolitical competition across the world. Since the election, Trump has spoken on the phone with the presidents of both China and Russia, expressing his desire to maintain stable relations with major powers. 

Harris at this juncture demonstrated a tough stance on the Asia-Pacific situation. It appears that he intended to set pre-emptive guidance for the new president's Asia-Pacific policy, pressuring Trump to yield to the military's will and attitude in Asia-Pacific policymaking. Normally the president-elect needs to coordinate internal and external policies to plan the new Asia-Pacific strategy. But Harris set the tone in advance that Trump should follow Hillary Clinton's rebalancing strategy.

Trump has neither experience nor connections in the field of diplomatic strategy. Harris vowed his loyalty to Trump after January 20, but his strong advocacy on US Asia-Pacific policy seems to be sending a warning to Trump. It leaves the impression that the Pacific Command he leads has the final say on the US Asia-Pacific policy, and US servicemen, rather than civilian officials, determine major-power relations.

Harris emphasized no changes to the US-Philippine alliance. The US-Philippine alliance does continue to exist. However, the Philippines' stance of refusing to confront China in the Duterte era is crystal clear to the whole world. Harris shouldn't provide the new president who has little knowledge about game in the Asia-Pacific with distorted information. No matter whether the words were truly coming from Harris, we want to make clear that now is the time that China and the US have integrated interests and China has become more powerful. Can the US easily define the timing to launch military action against China? Can the warships Harris commands really win in China's costal waters? We hope that day will never come, then Harris can keep bluffing.  

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