Military Relationships, North Korea Dominate Dunford Pacific Trip
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has wrapped up a trip to South Korea, China and Japan that had been planned months ago, but it could not have happened at a better time.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford noted he has global responsibilities with challenges posed by Russia, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Iran and Afghanistan among them. "But I think this is about as important a place as I can be," he said.
This is because of the recent activity by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The chairman's trip ensured "our allies have no confusion at all about where we are in our overall policy and in the military dimension of that policy," he said.
North Korea's nuclear program and ballistic missile tests were front and center in the chairman's conversations with regional leaders. He wings back to Washington having reassured South Korean and Japanese allies and having had a substantive conversation with a myriad of Chinese leaders.
The chairman communicated America's "ironclad" commitment to the security of both South Korea and Japan, while stressing the need for trilateral relationships among the three nations.
He also worked to open up an effective dialogue with Chinese leaders to manage crises and to mitigate the risks of miscalculation. "This is the heart of our military-to-military relationship with China," Dunford told reporters traveling with him.
Articulating U.S. Policy
The chairman came out to the region with the objective of articulating U.S. policy to make sure there is no ambiguity for any of the players in the region. This was particularly true of the military dimension of U.S. policy in the region.
Chinese Gen. Fang Fenghui, the People's Liberation Army's chief of the joint staff, invited Dunford and his party to visit. "What we had hoped to do was come to an agreement on the framework within which we could manage crises, and we were able to do that," Dunford said.
Dunford and Fang signed the Joint Staff Dialogue Mechanism agreement during an Aug. 16 ceremony in the Ba Yi, the Chinese army's headquarters in Beijing. The first meeting under the agreement will be in Washington in November "and that will be focused on establishing effective crisis communications," Dunford said. "Ideally, I'd like to see us connected at the operations level – the National Military Command Center [in the Pentagon] to the equivalent in China – 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he added.
During his trip, Dunford met not only with military leaders of South Korea, China and Japan, but also with those nations' civilian leaders. In South Korea, he met with President Moon Jae-in. In Japan, he met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and in China he met with President Xi Jinping. With all of the government leaders, he spoke about the challenge of North Korea and the collective efforts to deal with the issue.
With the South Korean and Japanese allies, he spoke further about the deterrent posture of the alliance and the capability development needed to defend the region. An example of that is the Japanese decision to procure and base the Aegis Ashore missile defense system.
"We also spoke about the need for trilateral military-to-military cooperation [and] interoperability," the chairman said.
Dunford noted that Japan and the United States made progress in anti-submarine warfare, integration of ballistic missile defense, exchanges of officers during exercises, and other matters. "I feel very good about the trajectory of our mil-to-mil relationship with Japan," he said.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)