The US admiral says China‘s “dream of hegemony” is Washington’s biggest long-term challenge. Adm. Harry Harris spoke on Wednesday as he turned over the reins of the US Pacific Command to Adm, CNN reported.
Phil Davidson at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in a ceremony that also announced the rebranding of US military assets in the region to the US Indo-Pacific Command.
“North Korea remains our most imminent threat and a nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles that can reach the United States is unacceptable,” he said.
However he added, “China remains our biggest long-term challenge. Without focused involvement and engagement by the United States and our allies and partners China will realize its dream of hegemony in Asia.”
Responding to Harris’s comments on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the admiral was “obsessed with hegemony” because he fears others are trying to steal it from the US.
“The US military presence in the South China Sea far exceeds the total of China and other coastal countries,” Hua said, calling US accusations of militarization “like a thief crying, ‘Stop, thief!'”
China’s deployments and building programs in the South China Sea are part of its self-defense, Hua added.
Harris spoke alongside US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who stopped off in Hawaii on his way to Singapore for a high-profile security forum, where issues relating to the South China Sea and North Korea will be discussed.
The admiral had been Trump’s choice for to fill the vacant ambassador post in Australia, but that nomination was pulled hours before his confirmation hearing in April.
While Harris has always been a hawk on North Korea during his term at Pacific Command, he has also issued warnings on China as Beijing has pursued a more muscular military posture in the Pacific and established a military presence on man-made islands in areas the US and its allies contend are international waters.