SINGAPORE: North Korea remains Washington’s “number one security concern” in Asia, the United States (US) Pacific Fleet commander said on Wednesday, despite simmering territorial disputes elsewhere in the region.
Admiral Harry Harris Jr. also accused China of “coercion” in its maritime disputes with neighbors.
He said an increased deployment of US military assets in the region as part of an Asian “pivot” announced in 2012 would ensure that “we are where it matters and when it matters.”
“Our number one security concern is North Korea,” Harris told reporters in Singapore on board the destroyer USS Spruance.
“I am concerned as a commander for the provocations that come from North Korea. I don’t understand them, I don’t understand their leadership and I don’t understand their intent,” he said.
Pyongyang last week warned of “calamities and disasters” if the United States and South Korea push ahead with a series of annual joint military drills from next month.
Last year’s exercises were held in the wake of North Korea’s third and largest nuclear test, and prompted months of escalated military tensions that saw Pyongyang issue similar apocalyptic threats of nuclear war against its southern neighbor and the United States.
Harris also expressed concern at China’s declaration of an “air defense identification zone” over the East China Sea, including over islands disputed with Japan.
“We think that the air defense identification zone [ADIZ] was an unfortunate imposition in the region,” he said.
“It highlights an issue that I am concerned about, and that is coercion by China in this case and other countries as well,” Harris added.
“It has not affected our military operations at all. We choose to do business as usual in the ADIZ.”
The declaration, which caused an international furor, requires foreign aircraft to declare their intentions and maintain communications with Chinese authorities or face unspecified “defensive emergency measures.”