Boosting defence in air and sea in Malaysia

Boosting defence in air and sea in Malaysia
Cementing ties: Navy chief Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar welcoming Harris in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

MALAYSIA - 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.

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