Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr speaks to Sunday Star about US-Malaysia security cooperation and shares his concerns over maritime disputes in the South China Sea and the missing MAS airliner.
Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr, who assumed command of the US Pacific Fleet in October, was in the country early this week to hold discussions with the Malaysian military. His trip here is part of the Obama Administration’s Rebalancing to Asia programme.
> Can you elaborate on your visit?
This is my first trip to Malaysia in this job. I’ve operated out of here before but this is my first trip to Malaysia as the Pacific Fleet Commander.
Malaysia is a key partner of the United States. Besides meeting your Defence Minister, chief of defence and navy, I have also gone to Sabah to see the naval base there and meet with their leadership.
> What do you think Malaysia should do to address the security situation in Sabah?
There is an effort between our governments for us to provide some Mark V patrol boats. If approved, this would provide a tremendous capability for the Malaysian navy, particularly in Sabah.
The US Navy routinely conducts joint exercises with the Malaysian Navy, including the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) which will be held next week.
We have three or four large ships coming here to participate and they will be conducting full range training with Malaysia.
In addition, there is also an annual counter-terrorism exercise called Seacat (Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism).
Malaysia will also participate in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the largest maritime warfare exercise in the world, in Hawaii. All these are opportunities for Malaysia to improve their capabilities.
> Besides the Mark Vs, are there any other resources you think Malaysia should have?
Well, we are competing with other countries for your new fighter aircraft and naturally we think the F18 is the best fighter available in the market today.
But that could be a biased opinion, so we are going to present the best case that we can and your Government will decide what’s best for you.
> What are your views on the maritime disputes in the South China Sea, particularly over the Spratly islands.
I worry about that quite a bit. You know the US position is not to take sides in territorial disputes. But we have a national interest in seeing these disputes resolved peacefully, through negotiations, through diplomacy.
I have said this in the past. China’s action in the South China Sea are provocative and they raise tensions needlessly. I hope China would work to lower the tensions, not only with Vietnam but with the other countries with whom they have territorial disputes.
> London-based author Nigel Cawthorne claimed in Flight MH370 The Mystery that the aircraft may have been accidentally shot down during a US-Thai training exercise. Can you comment on this?
There’s already a book? There are many things about MH370 which remain a mystery and an accidental shoot-down by the US military is no mystery. It did not happen. Categorically, it did not happen.
But let me begin, since you are putting down on paper, I want to express my nation’s condolence for the loss of the aircraft. It’s a tragedy.
Do I know where it is? Absolutely not. But we want to be as helpful as we can be and I think we have been up to this point in providing US military assets to aid in the search for the missing airliner. And we will continue to be as helpful as we can.
> Was there a military exercise that you are aware of during that period of time?
There were no US military exercises taking place in Thailand or in the vicinity of Malaysia on March 8.
> How’s the seventh fleet involved in the ongoing search? Will more advanced technology be provided?
Right now, there’s a hiatus in the search. The Malaysian, Chinese and Australians are studying and figuring out what the next steps are.
And once we understand what that is, we’ll be able to judge whether we can be helpful in the next level of search or not.
> How would you sum up
US-Malaysia military relations?
I’ll just say we have had a longstanding military relationship with Malaysia and I’ve been involved in some aspect of that most of my career. I’m a P3 (Orion pilot) guy. So I have flown out of Malaysia, I’ve flown in the region for most of my career. And I’ll say the relationship we enjoy with Malaysia is terrific.