Levin mentioned that President Barack Obama recently talked to China's new president, Xi Jinping, about the U.S. efforts to deal with North Korea. Locklear said he has not had similar conversations with his Chinese counterparts.
In an exchange with Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, Locklear acknowledged a hotline connection between Washington and Beijing similar to what existed with Moscow during the Cold War, and said both sides need to move forward in continuing conversations.
Locklear told Levin that he would explore the possibility of making direct contact with his military counterparts in China and communicate with them the seriousness of the situation on the Korean peninsula.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., insisted that North Korea's nuclear program could come to a "grinding halt" if China pressured Pyongyang.
Reflecting the uneasy relationship, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Locklear if he considers China a "friend or a foe." Locklear said neither.
"I consider (China), at this point in time, someone we have to develop a strategic partnership with to manage competition between two world powers," Locklear said.
Locklear said Kim Jong Un has adopted pages from the playbook used by his father, Kim Jong Il, but his approach differs in a significant way. Kim Jong Un's father, as well as his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, made sure they had "off ramps" that gave them a way to exit a confrontation, particularly if the U.S. and its allies were willing to offer concessions. Kim Jong Un, Locklear said, appears not to have given himself channels that would help him ratchet down the tensions.
The admiral described Kim Jong Un as "an impetuous young leader (who) continues to focus on provocation rather than on his own people."
The scope of Locklear's responsibilities as the top officer at Pacific Command extend beyond the Korean peninsula, and he told the committee that his command is closely watching the proliferation of submarines among countries including China and Vietnam. Locklear said there are an estimated 300 submarines being operated around the world, although he noted that no country there has an undersea force as capable as the United States'.
Both Russia and China are expected soon to deploy new ballistic missile submarines capable of threatening the United States, Locklear said. India is also expanding its submarine force, and Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and South Korea have launched, or soon will, modern submarines.
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