Adm. Harry Harris of Japanese descent has under his command about 300,000 troops, 200 vessels and 600 aircraft,Hiroyuki Akita, Nikkei Asian Review
30 June 2015
TOKYO – Admiral Harry Harris, the new commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, is in the spotlight amid maritime tensions in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
Harris, of Japanese descent, is the first Asian-American to rise to the rank of admiral in the U.S. Navy. Although there are many people of Japanese descent active in the world, there are probably none who are entrusted with as much authority and responsibilities as the 59-year-old U.S. admiral.
Harris commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet before taking the helm of the U.S. Pacific Command, also known as PACOM, in May. PACOM's area of responsibility encompasses almost half the Earth's surface, stretching from the west coast of the U.S. to the western border of India, and from Antarctica to the North Pole.
As the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Harris has under his command about 300,000 troops, 200 vessels and 600 aircraft, under the orders of the U.S. president and the U.S. defense secretary.
Harris was born in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, to a Japanese mother and an American father. He started his career at the U.S. navy as a crew member on anti-submarine patrol aircraft, then rose steadily through the ranks to reach his current position.
Harris speaks little Japanese, but he occasionally quotes Japanese proverbs in Japanese. He likes Japanese sake and spares time for drinks with his subordinates.
In mid-June, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, the head of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces' Joint Staff, held talks with Harris in Hawaii, where the U.S. Pacific Command is headquartered.
When asked about the meeting, Kawano, the highest-ranking Japanese military officer, said, "We discussed in detail how the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military should cooperate following the recent adoption of the new Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines."
"We share the completely same recognition, including concerning a response to China's (aggressive) maritime advancements. There is no difference at all between us," Kawano added.
Kawano said that he and Harris have known each other for several years, with both inviting the other to dinners.
Who leads PACOM has great significance for Japan. The command draws up operational plans for the U.S. military in the event of a crisis in the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which China calls the Diaoyu Islands, on the Korean Peninsula, or in the South China Sea.
According to a former top U.S. military official, PACOM considers various draft operation plans on a routine basis and submits multiple options to the U.S. Defense Department. The U.S. president then decides on intervention measures based on the options, in principle.
What is interesting is that Harris has criticized China's land reclamation in the South China Sea in an unusually open manner for a uniformed officer of the U.S. military.
In late March, Harris, who was then the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, made a splash with his blunt criticism of Beijing. "China is creating a 'great wall of sand'," he said.
A U.S. security expert close to the Defense Department said that multiple senior U.S. military officials, including Harris, have recommended to top U.S. military leaders since last year issuing a strong warning to China by deploying more vessels and aircraft to the South China Sea.
Harris served as then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's military adviser. He also served as commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. According to people around him, Harris' sense of crisis has deepened due to China's tough words and deeds.
A Japanese government source said that Admiral Samuel Locklear, Harris' immediate predecessor as the commander of PACOM, "was not so enthusiastic about emphasizing unity between Japan and the U.S. over how to deal with China."
"That might be because he (Locklear) was following the wishes of President Barack Obama's administration, which at the time did not want to make China angry," the Japanese government source said.
Therefore, the appointment of Harris to succeed Locklear as the head of the U.S. Pacific Command has been welcomed by many people in Japan. But Japan should not have excessive expectations toward Harris.
Needless to say, protecting U.S. interests is Harris' top priority. In fact, he said in an interview with Time, the U.S. weekly news magazine, "I'm only ethnically [Eurasian] or ethnically [half-]Japanese. Protecting American interests is my focus."
As a Japanese-American, Harris also needs to take special care not to make himself appear to be favoring Japan.
In the U.S. political world, Daniel Inouye, the late senator of Japanese descent, once wielded enormous influence and made efforts to promote exchanges between Japan and the U.S. He also never forgot to emphasize his patriotism toward the U.S.