February 9, 2018 / 11:11 PM / 3 months ago

Trump taps U.S. Pacific Commander Harris as ambassador to Australia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Friday named U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris, who is known for his hawkish views on China’s military expansion, as his pick to serve as the American ambassador to Australia, the White House said in a statement.

FILE PHOTO - U.S. President Donald Trump is welcomed by U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris, commander of United States Pacific Command, at its headquarters in Aiea, Hawaii, U.S. November 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The naval officer has served in the military for 39 years and is in his seventh command assignment as head of the U.S. Pacific Command, according to the White House.

During Harris’ tenure as head of U.S. forces in the Pacific, tensions over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs increased as President Donald Trump’s administration and Pyongyang exchanged threats.

Harris, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, favours diplomacy in countering North Korea’s missile threat.

Harris is also known for his combative views on Beijing’s South China Sea expansion and a strong supporter of so-called freedom of navigation operations under which U.S. ships and aircraft challenge other countries’ maritime claims.

He upset China by dubbing its construction of islands and building-up of military facilities in the South China Sea as a “great wall of sand.”

Two deadly collisions involving U.S. warships in the Pacific also occurred during his time as head of Pacific Command.

Ten sailors aboard the guided missile destroyer John S. McCain died when it collided with a tanker near Singapore on Aug. 21. Its sister ship, the Fitzgerald, almost sank off the Japanese coast on June 17 after colliding with a container ship. Seven crew died.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Harris’ likely replacement was Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

The officials did not comment on when an announcement could be made and any replacement will have to be approved by the U.S. Senate.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and Idrees Ali; Editing by David Alexander and Alistair Bell

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