05:07 GMT07 May 2021
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    On Wednesday, US Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the four-star commander of US Pacific Command warned that the US military would be taking steps to push back against China in the South China Sea. Sputnik sat down with Chinese foreign affairs analyst Dr. Su Hao to find out how seriously the Admiral's threats should be taken.

    On Wednesday, top US commander in the Asia Pacific region, Admiral Harry Harris said that the US will likely carry out new freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea soon.

    The US Pacific Command Chief offered no further details. However, he added that the US military "would be taking steps to push back against Chinese actions in the South China Sea and would be urging other regional partners to do the same."

    He also said that the US needs to encourage South China Sea neighbors such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam "to stand up to China" and to "backstop them where we can, especially with countries we’re allied with."

    Dr. Su Hao, a professor in the Department of Diplomacy at the China Foreign Affairs University, commented on the Admiral's remarks to Sputnik.

    "The position of the US Pacific Command Chief is rather tough. During the Obama presidency he was in charge of the freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. His activities were very harsh. There were even recorded cases when he prompted acting president Obama to some certain steps," he told Sputnik.

    Harris has also developed a reputation for occasionally going too far to advance his views. During the last two years of the Obama administration, he pushed a more hard-line view of Chinese island building in the South China Sea, and has at times pushed harder than some in the previous White House were comfortable with.

    He is a "hawkish" commander, the expert said, who always "pours oil on flames". Besides, he said, Harry Harris was born in Japan, his mother is Japanese and the Japanese factor greatly influences his decisions. And Japan pursues its own course in the area, he said.

    However President Trump, he said, has been recently coordinating his activities with China and now that there have already been some stabilizing moves with regards to the situation in the South China Sea. Harris's views seem to collide with the President's.

    One can't also exclude, the expert said, that US Pacific Command Chief might not always coordinate his actions with the White House. He cited as an example the recent incident with the USS Carl Vinson carrier's movements.

    Earlier this month President Trump said in an interview the military was sending "an armada" to the Korean Peninsula and reports at the time indicated the carrier strike group was led by the Vinson. But as tensions mounted with North Korea over the nuclear and ballistic-missile threat, it was learned last week from a New York Times story the Vinson was actually headed in another direction and not toward Korean waters.

    The Carl Vinson, and the three other warships in its strike force were that very moment sailing in the opposite direction, to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean, 3,500 miles (5,600 km) southwest of the Korean Peninsula.

    Dr. Su Hao further noted that Trump, as the president, should think of the benefits to his country. Namely, fulfilling all the agreements that have been recently made with President Xi Jinping.

    Despite this tension with China, dealing with North Korea will require US cooperation with Beijing.

    Dr. Su Hao said that the US is exerting pressure on China to strengthen the restrictive measures against North Korea, which are in the interests of the US. China is rather reserved in its activities and this isn't enough for Trump, he said. He wasn’t to use the situation in the South China Sea to exert indirect pressure on China.

    Trump has always enjoyed making deals, the expert said, hence he did not rule out that the US president is looking for certain deals over the South China Sea.

    South China Sea dispute, Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS), Admiral Harry Harris, South China Sea, China, US, Korean Peninsula
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