An assertive China and the violent extremism poses the greatest challenge to the Asia Pacific region in the long term, but North Korea is the most immediate and pressing challenge, a top American commander has said. “The biggest challenge is an aggressive and assertive China. But the most immediate challenge today is and remains North Korea,” Commander of the US Pacific Command or PACOM Admiral Harry Harris told PTI in an interview. “The other issue that faces all the nations in the (Asia Pacific) region, including the United States, and we’re actively engaged in this, is ISIS and kind of violent extremist activity, terrorism really,” Harris said. Referring to developments in the southern Philippines, he said the US was involved in the effort to help the armed forces of the Philippines who have been struggling to retake Marawi City after it was overrun by militants who have declared their allegiance to the Islamic State’s caliphate.
“I’m concerned with the potential for terrorism in Southeast Asia, and in South Asia,” he added. “I met with my Indonesian colleagues just this past week. So, I’m worried about Indonesia, Malaysia, the southern Philippines, and Bangladesh. And so, I think that that’s the other area (of challenge in the region),” he said. The jurisdiction of US Pacific Command starts from India and includes rest of the Asia including China, Japan, Australia and the entire of Indo-Pacific region. Both the previous Obama Administration and now the Trump Administration have been focusing on the Asia Pacific region. Cabinet Minister of the Trump Administration – the Secretary of State and the Defense Secretary – have made several rounds of the region.
Harris, however, said North Korea is the immediate concern. “The most pressing concern today is North Korea. The biggest challenge that we face here is China. I’m very concerned about ISIS getting a foothold in Asia,” he said. Responding to a question, Admiral Harris said he believes that China’s assertiveness is a challenge to the international rules-based order. “I also think that there are good things that China is doing, in the international space. Security space. And we should acknowledge that,” he said, referring to the counter- piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, humanitarian assistance, disaster response etc.
“But I believe that their actions in the East China Sea, and the South China Sea, are aggressive. Overly so. And they are coercive to their neighbours. They’re trying to circumvent the very organisation and treaty to which they’ve signed on for. The UN Commission on Law of the Sea. So I think they should be held accountable for that,” Harris said in response to a question.