- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2015

The announcement this week that President Obama has picked Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the president’s top military adviser — is a setback for pro-China advocates in the military and policy communities, according to a defense official.

As reported April 22 in this space, Mr. Obama picked Gen. Dunford, currently the Marine Corps Commandant, along with Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva to be the next vice chairman. The generals, once confirmed by the Senate, represent a major personnel change as the two top military leaders at the Pentagon, with broad power to influence defense policy and military forces and operations.

Gen. Dunford will replace Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, whose term ends in September. Gen. Selva, currently commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, will replace Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr.

According to defense officials, the selection of the two generals is a blow to officials in the military and the Obama administration who were hoping that the nomination would go to Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command who has been a major influence on Sino-U.S. policies.

Adm. Locklear had formed a special group of advisers who were working behind the scenes in Washington to influence the chairman selection process in favor the four-star admiral, who has been in charge of Pacific Command since 2012.

The admiral last year sought to curry favor with the White House by telling a reporter that climate change — not China or North Korea — was his biggest worry in the Pacific. He also made military exchanges with China one of his highest priorities, despite growing concerns among America’s Asian allies that the United States is appeasing Beijing and its communist-controlled military.

And some defense officials also privately suggested that Adm. Locklear has sought to slow-roll the administration’s signature policy of rebalancing forces to Asia. He, like other pro-China officials in the administration, is said to have regarded the pivot to Asia as unduly provocative of China.

Defense hawks both in and out of government have criticized Adm. Locklear for his conciliatory policies toward China that have focused on trying to “build trust” with China’s military through exchanges, ship visits and other military-to-military activities that often benefited China’s war-fighting development but did little to induce greater openness or cooperation.

Instead of closer ties, China’s military during Adm. Locklear’s tenure has grown more belligerent and less cooperative, critics say, with moves such as the transfer of strategic nuclear missile launchers to North Korea for KN-08 missiles; Beijing’s unilateral declaration of an air-defense zone over Japan’s Senkaku islands; a near-collision caused by a Chinese amphibious warship sailing dangerously close to the cruiser USS Cowpens in the South China Sea; and China’s first out-of-area deployment of submarines to the Indian Ocean.

Pacific Command spokesman Capt. Chris Sims said Adm. Locklear will be retiring. He declined to comment on the admiral’s policies at the command. Adm. Locklear’s departure will end the hold placed on his replacement, Adm. Harry J. Harris, commander of the Pacific Fleet, who was confirmed for the post at Pacific Command in December.

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