WASHINGTON, May 28, 2015 – The United States will continue to remain the principal security power in the Pacific region for decades to come, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in Hawaii yesterday.
The secretary also urged countries to work toward a peaceful resolution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea region.
Change of Command
Carter made his remarks during change-of-command ceremonies at U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and at the retirement of outgoing Pacom commander Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu.
Former U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. will take over as the Pacom commander from Locklear, while Navy Adm. Scott H. Swift, formerly assigned to the Pentagon as the Navy Staff director, will command Pacfleet.
“We come together at Pearl Harbor, 70 years after the end of World War II, to mark the change of command at Pacom, our oldest and largest combatant command,” Carter said. “Pacom’s leaders — and all who serve under them — are charged with protecting the nation while assuring the peace that’s been the hallmark of the Pacific region for many, many years.”
As Pacom’s commander, Locklear inspired and led DoD’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, said Carter, adding that the admiral commanded 350,000 military and civilian personnel, nearly 2,000 aircraft and 180 naval vessels to meet commitments made by President Barack Obama when he announced the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.
Outgoing Commander’s Legacy
Locklear was a diplomat, strategist and leader who recognized the importance of people, Carter said. Locklear’s legacy will make the rebalance a reality, the secretary added.
“But along the way, he also taught so many of us, including me, about America’s enduring interests and commitments in the Asia-Pacific,” Carter said. “Sam has advised a generation of government and military leaders — secretaries of defense, national security advisors, and the Joint Chiefs — and we’re going to remember those lessons and build on his legacy as we enter the next phase of our rebalance.”
But as Locklear knows, Carter said, the region’s security is rooted in something deeper and more fundamental: a commitment to shared values and principles, such as a commitment to the rule of law, to resolving disputes through diplomacy instead of coercion, and maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.
“The United States, DoD, and Pacom have always stood up for those principles and we always will because they’ve assured the Asia-Pacific’s peace and prosperity for decades,” the secretary said.
South China Sea
Carter said he wants to be clear about the United States’ position on the South China Sea, where several Asia-Pacific countries, including China, have been engaged in territorial disputes.
“First, we want a peaceful resolution of all disputes and an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by any claimant,” the secretary said. “We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features.”
Carter added, “Second, and there should be no mistake: The United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world.”
And, “with its actions in the South China Sea, China is out of step with both international norms that underscore the Asia-Pacific’s security architecture, and the regional consensus in favor of noncoercive approaches to this and other long-standing disputes,” the secretary said.
China’s actions “are bringing countries in the region together in new ways,” Carter said. “And they’re increasing demand for American engagement in the Asia-Pacific. We’re going to meet it. We will remain the principal security power in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come.”