CAMP SMITH, Hawaii—The commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led operations that helped Libyan rebels overthrow Moammar Gadhafi took over Friday as the top US military commander in Asia and the Pacific.
Adm. Samuel Locklear’s new role with the US Pacific Command comes as the United States places more emphasis on its military presence in the region in response to the area’s growing economic importance and China’s rise as a military power.
The Pacific Command is responsible for an area stretching from the US West Coast to India, including the Philippines.
It oversees some 325,000 military and civilian personnel—about one-fifth of the US military’s payroll.
America’s future depends on the peace and prosperity of Asia and the Pacific, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the audience at Friday’s ceremony, at which Locklear assumed command from Adm. Robert Willard.
“When I look across the world to the threats and challenges that we face as a nation—from terrorism, natural disasters, proliferation of weapons of nuclear destruction, to rogue nations and the rising powers of the Pacific—this region has most of those threats here,” Panetta said.
Panetta said the position required not just a great warrior but also “a great diplomat.”
Locklear last month told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing that China’s military buildup was a source of strategic uncertainty. He described the current military relationship as “cooperative but competitive.”
“It would be my plan to, in every way possible, improve our military-to-military relationship, with the recognition that there are things we won’t agree on, that greater transparency is for the good of all of us to avoid miscalculation,” Locklear told the committee.
Willard, the outgoing commander, has said that US-China military ties have been maintained at a senior level but China is reluctant to have tactical and operational ties with the US.
In the past, Beijing has stymied bilateral military exchanges in response to US arms sales to the self-governing island of Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
Locklear most recently commanded the US Navy in Europe and Africa.