JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced Wednesday that he is renaming U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, in recognition of the “increasing connectivity” between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
“Over many decades, this command has repeatedly adapted to changing circumstance and today carries that legacy forward as America focuses West,” Mattis said at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
Mattis made the announcement at a ceremony marking a change of command at Pacific Command (Pacom) from Pacom Commander Adm. Harry Harris to new Indo-Pacom Commander Adm. Philip Davidson.
The name change reflects the Trump administration’s focus on the Asia Pacific as a priority theater, and concern with China’s increasing deployment of weapons to disputed territories in the South China Sea.
While the Obama administration announced an Asia “pivot” or “rebalance,” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ultimately took precedence over that plan throughout the president’s tenure.
Trump Pentagon officials say that instead of saying the U.S. is going back to anything, they are stating what the reality is.
“Having grown up in Washington state, one of five with a Pacific Ocean coastline, and looking out over the vast expanse of ocean during yesterday’s flight, I was reminded that the United States is today and has been for two centuries a Pacific nation,” Mattis said at the ceremony.
“America’s national defense strategy, a roadmap for America’s military, acknowledges this reality, taking a clear-eyed look at the world as it is, not how we would wish it to be,” he said.
The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy named China a strategic competitor, and the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy has focused on competition with China and Russia.
Mattis did not mention China, but referenced its One Belt One Road initiative, which lends developing nations large sums of money to build infrastructure China could potentially seize if the often strict loan repayment terms are not met.
“America’s vision is shared by most nations in the region,” Mattis said. “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-Pac has many belts and many roads,” he said.
Mattis said the National Defense Strategy, is not a “strategy of confrontation,” however. “Rather, it is a balance of idealism, pragmatism, and cooperation.”
“We will continue to seek opportunities for cooperation and open dialogue with our competitors when it aligns with our international interests and the interests of allies, partners and stability – and always seeking peace from a position of strength,” he said.
Harris, who is nominated to become the next U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, said at the ceremony that North Korea was the most “imminent threat,” but China was the biggest “long-term” challenge.
“Great power competition is back,” he said.
The name change will almost certainly roil China, but U.S. officials downplay that it is directed at China and say it is a reflection of the reality that the U.S. is a Pacific nation with five states that border the Pacific Ocean and a number of U.S. allies in the Asia Pacific.