Pacific Command Chief Shares Views on Regional Issues
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE, June 4, 2010 The U.S. military’s top officer in the Pacific region shared his views on North Korean provocation, Japan’s new government and the stalled military relationship between the United States and China in a session today with reporters who traveled here with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for the 9th International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, right, and Navy Adm. Robert Willard, left, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, speak with India's National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon during a bilateral meeting at the 9th International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore, June 4, 2010. DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard said he has seen no indication that North Korea is planning another provocation in the wake of its March 26 sinking of the naval vessel Cheonan that killed 46 South Korean sailors.
“But I think everyone in the region is watching North Korea very closely,” Willard added, “given their unpredictability and the concern that what had been perpetrated on South Korea was so egregious.”
The admiral declined to speculate on any possible additional military exercises involving U.S. and South Korean forces in response to the Cheonan’s sinking.
“First of all, the Republic of Korea is in the lead in terms of the responses to this act that was perpetrated on them,” he said. “We’re certainly planning with them, discussing with them, their desires in terms of their own readiness, training and exercise needs, and what we might do as an alliance together to meet those needs. … There are many capabilities that both sides bring … in terms of our ability to exercise together, and that range of capabilities is certainly up for discussion at any time when we’re planning to exercise with one another.”
Willard said recent belligerent North Korean rhetoric is nothing new, but that Pacom is ready for anything that comes along.
“We’re prepared for any contingency in this region,” he said. “It’s my responsibility that we are. And we’re committed elsewhere, as we are in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, with about 35,000 of the 330,000 I command in Pacom. I mitigate the loss of those troops by at times demanding more of the troops left behind. In this case, the Navy and the Air Force make up for the commitment of [Army] brigade combat teams into Iraq and Afghanistan that we’ve experienced for the length of time that we have. Pacific Command is very ready.”
When the discussion turned to Japan, Willard noted that despite political turmoil that led to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s resignation this week, the military-to-military relationship between U.S. and Japanese forces never wavered.
“This alliance is a cornerstone of security in Northeast Asia, and remains so,” the admiral said. The strong relationship between Pacom and the Japanese self-defense forces will remain strong with newly appointed Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s administration, he added.
One factor that contributed to Hatoyama’s resignation was the decision to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on the Japanese island of Okinawa as previously agreed, rather than move it off the island. Though discussions still are ongoing, Willard said, he doesn’t expect that process to be disrupted by a new Japanese administration coming into office.
“The plan to relocate Futenma … was an agreement reached by both governments, mainly a choice by the Japanese regarding the most-optimum location to place that airfield in support of our Marines that remain on Okinawa,” he said. “It still remains the best location, as I think [was] reaffirmed by the ongoing discussions over the last several months that arrived at the same conclusion.
“This was a conclusion arrived at by the government of Okinawa, as well as the government in Tokyo, and with the concurrence of the United States,” he continued, “so this is an agreement between the two countries that has been long in discussion, long [in] coming, and we believe -- and I think the Japanese believe as well -- that the Futenma [relocation] as agreed to is the best option for both parties.” In discussing the stalled military-to-military relationship between the United States and China, Willard said he attended the strategic and economic dialogue conference in Beijing last week at the invitation of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“I was struck by the sophistication and maturity of engagement between the U.S. and [China] in all other areas,” he said, noting “considerable contrast between the maturity of dialogue that’s going on between the U.S. and China across all of our areas of government and economy, and the military-to-military relationship that is lagging considerably behind.”
Whatever differences exist between the two countries, Willard said, he hopes the People’s Liberation Army adopts an approach that builds on U.S.-Chinese common interests.
“When you think about proliferation concerns, … when you consider humanitarian assistance, disaster response, counter-piracy, maritime security, many areas of common concern between the U.S. and China – we believe that the foundation of a [military-to-military] dialogue that is continuous and effective should be those areas of common concern,” he said.
“In other areas that challenge the relationship,” Willard continued, “we ought to look for opportunities for frank dialogue in those areas and see if we can’t find common ground there. That is our viewpoint. Clearly, the viewpoint of the PLA is different on that, and they’ve chosen those areas of challenge to terminate at different times the [military-to-military] dialogue that would benefit both countries and the region as a whole.”
This is Willard’s first opportunity to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue as Pacom’s commander, and he said he’s enjoying the opportunities it presents.
“It’s been terrific to be here,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to engage with some of my counterparts who are generally the chiefs of defense from the nations in the region, as well as to sit in on some of the discussions with Secretary Gates at the ministerial level. So it’s a great education for me, and certainly a good opportunity to engage with chiefs of defense from across the region.”