During his nomination hearing for the job of leading U.S. Pacific Command before the Senate Armed Services Committee Dec. 2, Adm. Harry Harris was reminded of the recent U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report findings questioning the American commitment to the Asia-Pacific rebalance.
“There is growing concern among U.S. allies and partners that the United States will be unable to follow through on its commitment to the rebalance due to declining defense budgets and continuing security challenges elsewhere,” the report finds. “Furthermore, some regional countries almost certainly began to question the willingness of the United States to restrain China’s increasing assertiveness after China in 2012 gained de facto control of Scarborough Reef, territory also claimed by the Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally. This perception could lead some regional countries to increasingly accommodate China or pursue military capabilities that could be used offensively or preemptively.”
Do you agree with this assessment, Harris was asked, and what mitigation steps would you recommend?
“While I agree that some countries are concerned, I disagree with the premise that the U.S. is unable to follow through on its commitment to the rebalance and is, therefore, a poor security partner,” Harris contends. “The rebalance is real and being realized now. I firmly believe our allies and partners are confident about the U.S. commitment to the region. In fact, in meetings I’ve had with civilian and military leaders across the region, countries are consistently turning to the U.S. as their security partner of choice.”
Additionally, he says, “I have not observed evidence to suggest any significant alignment or accommodation to China among our allies and partners. To the contrary, China’s provocative behavior troubles them greatly, which has created a demand signal for greater partnership with the U.S. Most nations, including the U.S., have increased their economic relationship with China over the past few years — this, of itself, is not a bad thing as it helps promote a strong and prosperous Asia-Pacific region. However, economic arrangements do not portend security relationships. I do not see the demand signal for partnership with the U.S. abating.”
As Harris maintains, counting on the U.S. right now in the region looks to be worth the gamble.
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