The U.S. Army's top commander in the Pacific region said Wednesday his biggest worry is the missile threat from North Korea but sees his growing relationship with the Chinese military and other countries as a sign that stability is slowly spreading across the region.
"The thing I worry the most about is North Korea, the most likely threat to all of us," Gen. Robert Brown, commander of U.S. Army Pacific Command, told an audience at Asia Forecast 2017, hosted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Brown said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continues to display a "belligerent aggressiveness" with his efforts to arm long-range missiles with nuclear weapons.
"You have a belligerent North Korea; he's pushing the envelope. I mean, look at 34-plus launches in four years … it could be upward of 40, depending on what you count versus his father, [who did] 12 launches in 17 years," he said. "There is something going on there."
Brown's comments come amid recent reports that North Korea is preparing to test launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Assessments from South Korea say North Korea may be preparing for a missile test launch of an ICBM, possibly in the next few days, according to an article by the Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security Program.
While little proof exists, accounts say that the South Korean military has reported seeing two missiles on mobile launchers.
If North Korea were to use this in an attack, Brown said, "Every soldier that I lead, every individual that I am in charge of, would be involved -- some within hours, some are already there on the peninsula.
"I have significant responsibilities -- things like non-combatant evacuations on the peninsula, getting half a million people out of there."
Brown returned from a trip last fall that involved a visit to China as Army units took part in a disaster management exchange exercise there. He said he met with many leaders during that trip.
"We concentrated on what we had in common," he said. "I talked out the Flying Tigers in World War II, where we actually had U.S. pilots flying in the Chinese air force. We talked about Ebola and many [humanitarian assistance, disaster relief] and peacekeeping operations -- other things we had in common."
Tension between the U.S. and China has been increasing in the region since the Chinese government built seven bases in the South China Sea on manmade islands.
"We have to find what we have in common ... so you can talk about the differences. If you just talk differences, you are never going to get past that," Brown said, adding that he has a "great relationship" with leaders in the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
"In my 30-plus years in the Pacific, and 36 years in the military, I have never seen stronger ties throughout the region … for me, that is extremely encouraging."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.