US

New Pentagon chief an instant hit in Japan, South Korea

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis answers questions during the joint press conference with Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. During the news conference, Mattis says the U.S. cannot afford to ignore destabilizing moves by Iran, but has no plans to respond by increasing American military forces in the Middle East. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

    U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis answers questions during the joint press conference with Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. During the news conference, Mattis says the U.S. cannot afford to ignore destabilizing moves by Iran, but has no plans to respond by increasing American military forces in the Middle East. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)  (The Associated Press)

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, shake hands at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017.  In an explicit warning to North Korea, U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis on Friday said any use of nuclear weapons by the North on the United States or its allies would be met with what he called an "effective and overwhelming" response. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)

    U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, shake hands at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. In an explicit warning to North Korea, U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis on Friday said any use of nuclear weapons by the North on the United States or its allies would be met with what he called an "effective and overwhelming" response. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)  (The Associated Press)

In his debut abroad as the first retired general to lead the Pentagon in more than half a century, Jim Mattis found that in Japan and South Korea his experience in uniform is seen as an asset.

Not everyone who knows Mattis well in the U.S. shares that view, but he clearly was an instant hit in northeast Asia.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was effusive in his endorsement, and also noted that Mattis's military career included a stint on Okinawa in 1972.

In Seoul, where civilian control of the military has a mixed history, Mattis's counterpart, Han Min Koo, portrayed him as a kindred spirit. Han said they were able to forge a bond in their first meeting because both had been active-duty servicemen for more than 40 years.