Harry B. Harris, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Center – Peking University, Beijing China
"Remarks as Delivered" on 3
you for inviting me to speak today and to offer my thoughts on the
Indo-Asia-Pacific and our military relationship with China.
especially pleased to chat with Ambassador Baucus’ alma mater. Between Max Baucus, John Elway, John
Steinbeck and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, you all are in the major
leagues of academics.
be remiss if I didn’t start by thanking my wife Bruni, who accompanied me on
this trip and has provided valuable insights about the friendliness and spirit
of the Chinese people. Bruni is way
smarter than I am, and way more forward thinking, as demonstrated by her decision
to study in Shanghai as a Cox Scholar in the 1980s.
knew back then what all American students here in China – and the 275,000 Chinese
students currently in America – know now … that expanding people-to-people
connections will lead to a more prosperous future for both nations. So I’m honored to be here to share
perspectives with you.
we get to our discussion, I’d like to broadly cover some opportunities and
challenges in this dynamic region and spend a few minutes talking about Pacific
Command’s part in America’s whole-of-government Rebalance initiative to this
those of you who may be unfamiliar with Pacific Command, or "PACOM"
as we call it … it's the oldest and largest of America’s geographic military
Combatant Commands. PACOM is responsible
for all U.S. military forces and operations … from Hollywood to Bollywood …
from polar bears to penguins.
you’re responsible for a region that covers 52 percent of the planet, it’s
difficult to provide a quick overview.
So I’ll touch on a few areas to help generate some discussion.
is composed of almost 400,000 military and civilian personnel which includes about
60 percent of our naval forces – in fact, we have two aircraft carrier strike
groups operating in the region right now.
I report directly to President Obama through Defense Secretary
Carter. And I consider myself lucky to
lead America’s finest Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Coastguardsmen and
of these folks work hard to maintain security and stability in the
Indo-Asia-Pacific – a region with the world’s 3 largest and 5 smallest economies. From a military perspective, the region has 7
of the 10 largest standing armies in the world … 5 nations with nuclear weapons
… and 5 of the 7 U.S. defense treaty allies – Australia, Thailand, the
Philippines, Japan and South Korea.
are more people living in this region than outside it … and most projections
place 7 out of every 10 people on Earth within the Indo-Asia-Pacific by the
middle of this century. The implications
for the world’s food, energy, and infrastructure requirements make the current rules-based
international order essential to maintaining peace and prosperity. These projections not only point to opportunities
for cooperation, they underscore the potential for conflicts as well.
all else, what these statistics should tell you is that the Indo-Asia-Pacific matters
to the United States – which has always been, and will always be, a Pacific
nation, a Pacific leader and a Pacific power. And even as we confront other challenges
around the globe, including ISIL’s barbarism in the Middle East, we continue to
make progress on the Rebalance to advance our enduring interests in this
by President Obama four years ago, the Rebalance is focused on four areas –
political, diplomatic, military, and economic.
On the political side, the President hosted India’s Prime Minister Modi
and Japan’s Prime Minister Abe in the last several months. And recently, he hosted China’s President Xi,
South Korea’s President Park, and Indonesia’s President Widodo. And later this month, the President will
travel to the Philippines to attend APEC.
So frequent engagements with Asian leaders have been, and will remain, a
national priority for the United States.
part of our Rebalance is the military component – the area I’m responsible for. The persistent presence of U.S. joint
military forces throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific for the last 70 years has
safeguarded the rules-based international order … a system that continues to
benefit all nations – including China – by setting the conditions for
stability, economic prosperity, and peace.
enhance of our military presence by strengthening treaty alliances, building
new partnerships, advancing multilateral cooperation, improving
interoperability, and increasing our readiness to respond to crises. We are expanding many of our bilateral
relationships into trilateral and multilateral ones. And our military is actively involved in the
ASEAN Regional Forum.
military activities are the most visible aspect of the Rebalance, the most
important facet is economic. That’s one
reason why our leaders are working to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership, one
of the largest trade agreements in history and one that represents 40 percent
of the global economy. It will improve
the economies of all the member nations and it will act as a buffer to
potential conflict among members.
while PACOM works hard to maintain peace and prosperity, as a military
commander I must also ensure that our forces are first and foremost ready to defend
our national interests. We must be ready
to fight if called upon. There are
threats to peace in this region. The
biggest one is North Korea – a nation with an unpredictable leader who is on a
quest for nuclear weapons and a missile system that can deliver them throughout
the region, to include the United States.
persistent threat from North Korea is one of the reasons why our alliances with
Japan and South Korea are so important.
For decades, these alliances have been the foundation of peace and
security in Northeast Asia and the cornerstone of U.S. engagement in the region.
In fact, I was just in South Korea where I supported U.S. Defense Secretary
Carter in consultative talks with our Korean allies.
Now, I know
everyone here is focused on China-U.S. relations, so let me address it
now. Some pundits predict a coming clash
between our nations. I do not ascribe to
this pessimistic view.
certainly disagree on some topics – the most public being China’s claims in the
South China Sea and our activities there – there are many areas where we have
common ground. For example, President Xi
and President Obama just reiterated our nations’
commitment to realize the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the
Korean Peninsula in peaceful ways. China
participated in the world’s largest maritime exercise – RIMPAC – last year and
will do so again next year. As I address
all of you today, Chinese Navy ships are making a port visit to Mayport, Florida,
home of the U.S. 4th Fleet; while the Chinese Hospital Ship Peace
Ark is visiting San Diego, home of the U.S. 3rd Fleet. And later this month, not only will USS Stethem
visit Shanghai, so too will Admiral Scott Swift, the U.S. Pacific Fleet
commander. In fact, there are 33
separate military exchanges in the next two weeks from 4-stars to cadets.
Rice recently said, part of our strategy is to deepen engagement with China at
every level so that we can maximize cooperation on areas of mutual interest
while confronting and managing our disagreements. I agree with many of my Chinese
counterparts who have emphasized cooperation over confrontation. I worked to advance this goal during my last
trip to China in April 2014, where I was part of a delegation that approved the
Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, or CUES … an important confidence
building measure approved by 21 nations of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium
that includes the U.S., China, Australia, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines,
Thailand, Vietnam, Russia, and many others.
issues of mutual interest and increasing cooperation for militaries to operate
together are essential. This allows us
to more effectively respond together during crisis. This was never more evident than the search
to locate missing Malaysian Air Flight 370.
Led by our Australian allies, last year’s multinational response
included China, the U.S. and many navies.
This flight had 239 souls onboard, including 152 from China, and I want to
express my personal condolences to all those here in China, in Malaysia and all
nations, including the United States, who lost loved ones. We can never know where the next tragedy will
strike this region, but PACOM is working to build bridges that allow us to
effectively respond in cooperative ways.
But as recent news headlines
indicate, there remain areas of tension.
In my opinion, this is when military-to-military dialogue is needed
most. Sustained people-to-people contact
is one of the best ways we can avoid misunderstanding and military
miscalculation. Just last week, the head
of the Chinese Navy and the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations talked frankly for
an hour about our recent freedom of navigation operations in the South China
Sea. And I continue to have personal and candid conversations with
Chinese military leaders, which is why I’m in China this week.
and open access to all shared domains is a fundamental principle of the
rules-based international order. And as
Secretary Carter just said a couple of days ago, the rules-based international
order faces challenges from Russia and, in a different way, from China – with its
ambiguous maritime claims to include the so-called 9-dash line that encompasses
nearly all of the South China Sea.
prevent the decomposition of international laws and norms, the United States
continues our long tradition of taking a global stand in support of freedom of
navigation – one of the pillars that protects unimpeded passage on the high
seas for the trade that has allowed all nations to develop and fueled the
global economy that has lifted millions out of poverty … including here in
seas and airspace belong to everyone and are not the dominion of any single
nation. By matching our words and our
diplomacy with routine freedom of navigation operations, we're making it clear
that the United States continues to favor peaceful resolutions to ongoing
disputes, and that our military will continue to fly, sail, and operate
whenever and wherever international law allows.
The South China Sea is not - and will not - be an exception.
We’ve been conducting freedom of
navigation operations all over the world for decades, so no one should be
surprised by them. And we’ve executed
these operations while avoiding military conflict – that remains our goal, to
include coast guard and civilian vessels that might attempt to act in an
unprofessional manner in the future.
truly believe that these routine operations should never be construed as a
threat to any nation. These operations
serve to protect the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace
guaranteed to all nations under international law. The United States takes no position on
competing sovereignty claims to land features in the South China Sea and we
encourage all claimants to solve disputes peacefully, without coercion, and in
accordance with international law.
said, we must not allow the areas where China and the U.S. disagree to impact
our ability to make progress on the areas where we do agree. Both nations have many mechanisms in place to
help ensure they don’t – from CUES, to the Military Maritime Consultative
Agreement, to our recently signed confidence building measures for maritime and
aerial operations. All of these
mechanisms help strengthen our relationship and enable us to better manage
areas of disagreement.
and gentlemen, I’ve gone on long enough, so I’ll wrap up my formal remarks by
telling the story of a guy who went on holiday in the Himalayas. While he was there, he got the rare
opportunity to visit a monastery. Now,
this monastery was on top of a steep mountain and the only way you could get to
it was to be pulled up the side of a 300-meter cliff … in a basket.
he looked up at the rope, he noticed it was fraying a bit, so he asked the monk
sitting next to him …“How often do you guys replace the rope?”
monk replied …“Every time it breaks.”
that kind of logic doesn’t work for most of us. There’s simply too much at stake. We can’t allow the rope to break. We’ve got to remain proactive in this region
in order to be ready for the challenges we see today and tomorrow. And, although these challenges are
significant, they are not insurmountable.
During President Xi’s recent visit to the White House,
President Obama talked about how there will be times where there are
differences between our two countries.
But he also spoke about how we can draw encouragement
from the ties that have long connected our people so that we can expand cooperation
between our two nations. He spoke about
the past and how American military airmen during World War Two were sheltered
and fed by Chinese villagers. He spoke about
valuable ties that are forged today … and he specifically mentioned you
– students and academics who cross the Pacific to learn from each other. So while my work as a military commander
requires me to look through a darker lens and drink through a glass half empty,
I encourage you to be optimistic … to drink from glasses half full … and to
continue your work – building people-to-people ties at academic centers of
excellence like Peking University and Stanford that expands future cooperation
between the United States and China. Again, thank you
for inviting me to speak, and with that, we can take a few questions and share