The top US commander in the Asia-Pacific region on Tuesday cast doubt on Taiwan’s chances of taking part in next year’s Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC).
US Congress members last month formally asked US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to invite Taiwan to RIMPAC, the biggest multinational maritime military exercises in the world.
However, when asked in a briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center about the possibility of Taipei receiving an invitation to the exercises, US Admiral Samuel Locklear III did not respond affirmatively.
“Now to the question of Taiwan and RIMPAC, that’s a policy decision that would have to be made about whether or not that would occur,” he said. “And you know all the policy implications.”
Locklear has recently appeared positive about holding bilateral meetings between US and Chinese military leaders, and about Beijing agreeing to participate in the RIMPAC in May next year.
He has said that would represent a big commitment by Beijing because Chinese ships would operate alongside allied and partner navies under US command.
While Locklear did not explicitly say so, it is likely that Taiwan’s invitation to join the exercises would prompt a negative reaction from Beijing.
“Our primary role, our primary goal today is to ensure that the cross-strait stability continues … and is promoted,” Locklear said at the briefing
“We want to do the things that improve the opportunity for success and stability, rather than try to find things that might make it less stable,” he added.
“To the degree that we would throw an exercise like RIMPAC into that discussion, we’d have to have a long policy discussion about the implications and the pros and cons of doing that, not only between our relationship — the US’ relationship with Taiwan — but also about the stability of the region in general,” the admiral said. “That’s the dialogue we’ll have to have.”
Asked about what the next flashpoint in the Asia-Pacific region could be, Locklear said the area had been relatively peaceful for a long time.
“As a people and as a military, we should expect it to remain peaceful,” he said. “We should expect all parties to look for opportunities to de-escalate and maintain peace rather that create friction that would cause escalation.”
However, he said that a nuclear-capable North Korea was his No. 1 concern and posed “the most danger for the world at large.”
He said his next biggest concern was to make sure that the region worked through “all these territorial issues and that they don’t turn into a flash point.”
Locklear said the US should continue to ensure that national leaders and diplomats were able to conduct dialogues.
The goal is to create “space for dialogue,” and ensure the sufficient peace and prosperity required to allow negotiation processes to work, he said.