By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, June 10 (Yonhap) — The new head of the U.S. Pacific Command reaffirmed Wednesday stern responses to any provocations by North Korea, said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Adm. Harry Harris, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, made the pledge during his visit to the South Korean Navy’s 2nd Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, where he paid tribute to sailors killed in the North’s deadly attack on the warship, Cheonan.
On March 26, 2010, the 1,200-ton naval corvette sank in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 South Koreans. An international investigation found that Pyongyang had torpedoed the ship, though the belligerent regime has denied responsibility. The hull of the vessel is on display at the fleet’s headquarters.
“His visit to the 2nd Fleet in charge of defending the northwestern waters is seen as a symbolic expression of the allies’ will to strongly respond to any provocative actions by North Korea,” the JCS said in a release.
It is his first trip to the Korean Peninsula after assuming command of the U.S. Pacific Command in May 2015.
Prior to the commemoration, he met with the JCS’ chairman, Amd. Choi Yun-hee, and discussed a wide range of issues of mutual concern.
“After being debriefed on the recent movements of the North Korean military, which has intentionally heightened tensions along the western sea border, the two sides once again confirmed instant, stern and strong responses based upon their solid combined defense posture,” according to the release.
In a saber-rattling move against South Korea and the U.S., North Korea has continued to build up its asymmetric capabilities and launch provocative actions. Last month alone, the North carried out live-fire drills twice near the Northern Limit Line, the de facto inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea.
Harris paid a courtesy call Tuesday on President Park Geun-hye soon after his arrival in Seoul, Cheong Wa Dae said.
The Park-Harris meeting was attended by U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert; Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea; and Lt. Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of the 7th U.S. Air Force, according to the presidential office.
It marked the first time that Park has had a meeting with a commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, although Adm. Samuel Locklear III, the predecessor of Harris, attended Park’s meeting with then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2013.
Later in the day, Harris plans to sit down for talks with Defense Minister Han Min-koo on the security situation on the peninsula and to meet with U.S. service personnel stationed in Korea. He is to return home on Thursday.
As one of six unified combatant commands of the U.S. armed forces headquartered in Hawaii, the U.S. Pacific Command covers the areas stretching from the waters off its west coast to the western border of India, according to its website. Some 360,000 military and civilian personnel are assigned for missions to enhance stability in the Asia-Pacific region.