US INDO-PACOM will ensure free trade on 'Many Belts, Many Roads' in South China Sea

The US Pacific Command has officially changed its title, as US military takes a sharper tone on China's militarization of the region

File photo:  US Fleet near Korean Peninsula, 2016 (US Navy Image)

File photo: US Fleet near Korean Peninsula, 2016 (US Navy Image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – On Thursday in Washington D.C., the Pentagon announced an official name change of the USPACOM (United States Pacific Command), which will henceforth be renamed the “US Indo-Pacific Command” (INDO-PACOM).

The name change, announced by Defense Secretary James Mattis, indicates the shifting range of strategic focus with which the United States regards the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.

In recent years, the area has seen a marked rise in tension because of territorial disputes and “freedom of navigation” issues, which has caused some conflict between Beijing and Washington.

According to Liberty Times, the decision for the name change was made at the official handover ceremony of USPACOM from former commander Admiral Harry Harris, to the new commander Admiral Phil Davidson, which took place on May 30.

The outgoing Admiral Harris who has been appointed to become the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea offered these words:

“Make no mistake, our 27-year holiday from history is over. Great power competition is back. Freedom and justice hang in the balance and the scale won’t tip of its own accord simply because we wish it would.”

Admiral Davidson relieves Admiral Harris of his command May 30 (US Navy Photo)

A press release signed by Mattis announced the name change the following day. According to the statement the theater of operations for the joint command stretches from “Hollywood to Bollywood.”

Mattis said that ensuring free and equitable trade, along with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean are priorities for the United States.

In a clear reference to China’s proposed “One Belt, One Road” initiative, Mattis was quoted as saying:“For every state, sovereignty is respected no matter its size, and it’s a region open to investment and free, fair and reciprocal trade not bound by any nation’s predatory economics or threat of coercion. For the Indo-Pacific has many belts, many roads.”

Admiral Davidson was quoted as saying that INDOPACOM’s command priorities are China and Russia, but that North Korea, Iran and extremist activity throughout the vast region also remain areas of concern, reports USNI.

Defense Secretary James Mattis speaks to the press (Associated Press Image)

After Mattis recently stated that the U.S. will step up its efforts to confront China over the militarization of features in the South China Sea, Chinese Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying claimed on Thursday, May 31 that America is the one who is militarizing the region, reports CNN.

She noted that the U.S. possesses far greater military strength than China in the region, and remarked that the U.S. playing up China’s militarization activities was “ridiculous.”

Also on Thursday, May 31, a senior Pentagon official Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff was asked about China’s militarization of the islands in the region.

When a reporter inquired about U.S. capability to “blow apart” China’s artificial islands and its military installations, McKenzie replied "I would just tell you that the United States military has had a lot of experience in the Western Pacific taking down small islands."

When asked to clarify his remarks the pentagon official said:

"It's just a fact we had a lot of experience in the Second World War taking down small islands that are isolated, so that's a core competency of the U.S. military that we've done before; shouldn't read anything more into that than a simple statement of historical fact."

Some media reports suggest that the remarks are a warning for Beijing.

(Associated Press Image)