The long-rumored nomination of Admiral Harry Harris as the next U.S. Ambassador to Australia is now official. Admiral Harris is about to retire after three years as the head of U.S. Pacific Command where he became known for criticism of China’s military expansion into the South China Sea. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.
Admiral Harris famously described China’s man-made islands as its “Great Wall of Sand.” An angry Beijing accused Harris of “seeking publicity” and “sowing discord.”
The first Japanese-American to head Pacific Command, Harry Harris is considered very well informed and well connected. His appointment drew wide praise in Australia and will reassure those worried about U.S. commitment to the alliance.
Admiral Harris is expected to win easy confirmation in the U.S. Senate, but he can expect to face questions about the accidents last year that cost the lives of 17 sailors when two destroyers collided with merchant ships. He may also be asked about the worst corruption case in U.S. Navy history, known as the “Fat Leonard” scandal. More than a dozen senior officers, including two admirals have been charged with accepting bribes from a contractor named Leonard Francis.
Admiral Harris was not in the Pacific when Fat Leonard was plying officers at Seventh Fleet Headquarters with lavish dinners and prostitutes, but Harris’ number two, current Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Scott Swift, was one of the Seventh Fleet commanders during those years. Ordinarily, Pacific Fleet Commanders move up to the top job, but last year Admiral Swift learned that he would be passed over for promotion and announced plans to retire. Vice Admiral John Aquilano, the current commander of U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf, has been named to replace Admiral Swift at Pacific Fleet; no news on Admiral Harris’s replacement at Pacific Command.