‘If other countries see strong ties, it sends a clear message’
“The trilateral relationship, in my personal opinion, is one of the most important things that really we can do here because it takes cooperation,” said Kim to reporters on Monday at the U.S. Navy’s Yokosuka base, located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Tokyo. “We already have very close cooperation between the United States and Japan, the United States and South Korea. But I think that greater cooperation - as we’ve seen growing between South Korea and Japan - really creates a much stronger security structure for the United States and its friends in the region.”
He added, “Let’s say, if other countries in the region see a strong trilateral organization, I think it sends a clear message about the strength of our purpose here.”
The Yokosuka base is considered the United States’ most strategically-located overseas naval installment, and is its largest.
Kim said of North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile provocations, “Clearly, their capabilities are greater than in the past. So we have to be vigilant, and we would have to be ready.”
While he said he could not speak in detail about the matter, he emphasized, “The readiness and vigilance has not changed, but we have to understand that capabilities on the other side have increased, as demonstrated by the testing which we see in news.”
“We are always preparing for a number of different possibilities,” said Kim when asked if exercises are taking place to prepare for the possible evacuation of the Korean Peninsula. “So, I don’t want to focus on just one scenario. The Seventh Fleet and U.S. forces in the region are ready for any number of different possible things.”
The Seventh Fleet’s role, though it is stationed in Japan, Kim pointed out, is not intended solely to protect just one alliance.
“The United States has several alliances in this region,” he said. “When you talk about ballistic missile defense, all the ballistic missile defense ships in Asia are stationed here. But often these ships are asked to defend other allies, including South Korea.”
Kim emigrated to the United States with his family when he was seven, he said in Korean. He grew up in Albany, California, and previously served as commanding officer of the USS John S. McCain Aegis-equipped destroyer based in Yokosuka from 2009 to 2010, assuming command in a ceremony held in Busan.
In July, he assumed command of the Yokosuka base, which has 13 forward-deployed naval ships, the highest number since the Vietnam War, and more than 24,000 naval-related personnel and their families.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, flagship of Carrier Strike Group Five, returned to Yokosuka after three months of patrol last month.
Ronald Reagan was deployed to Korea in October for a joint naval drill Invincible Spirit with the South Korean Navy.
When asked if the next U.S. administration will continue a pivot to the Asia-Pacific, Kim said, “What we have right, what we’ve had for decades, is our continuing alliance with Japan, and the United States continuing alliance with the Republic of Korea. Those exist and have existed.”
He added, on his feelings of serving as a Korean-American naval captain in Japan and returning to Yokosuka as its fleet activities commander, “I am very honored.”
Kim received his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and master’s degree in public policy at Harvard University.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter arrived in Japan Tuesday and emphasized that countries including South Korea, Australia and India can benefit from trilateral partnerships “to provide security from one end of the region to the other.”
BY JOINT PRESS CORPS, SARAH KIM [email@example.com]