Secretary of Defense James Mattis will travel to Asia on his first official trip in his new position in order to meet with key allies in the region, according to the Pentagon.
The newly minted secretary will start his trip in the Republic of Korea, meeting with his counterpart in the country as well as other senior officials. He will then travel to Tokyo, Japan, to meet with Japanese defense officials.
“The trip will underscore the commitment of the United States to our enduring alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea, and further strengthen U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea security cooperation,” said the Pentagon in a statement.
Mattis’ decision to travel to Asia first is telling. The former Marine Corps general spent a significant chunk of his career in the Middle East, eventually rising to the top spot in United States Central Command. Despite his background, Mattis expresses serious concern regarding the military’s ability to counter recent Chinese aggression. He admitted during his confirmation hearing earlier this month that he did not believe the U.S. armed forces were strong enough to deter Russia and China.
“I believe that we’re going to have to manage that competition between us and China,” said Mattis during his hearing. “There’s another piece of wisdom from antiquity that says fear, honor and interest always seem to be the root causes of why a nation chooses to go to hostilities.”
The choice to meet with Japan and South Korea, the two U.S. allies under the most threat by China, hints that the general is taking the threat quite seriously. Mattis also expressed concern over North Korea’s developing nuclear weapons program. He noted that such threats will require the the U.S. to “embrace our international alliances and security partnerships.”
“History is clear: nations with strong allies thrive and those without them whither,” said the secretary.
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