US takes aim at China with Indo-Pacific military spending plans: analysts

Minnie Chan, South China Morning Post

Posted at Dec 11 2021 11:53 AM

US plans to channel US$7.1 billion in defence spending to the Indo-Pacific region in the next financial year to counter a rising China will escalate confrontation between the two powers, analysts say.

The spending package was part of the National Defence Authorisation Act, or NDAA, passed by the US House of Representatives on Thursday. The bill will move on to the Senate for final passage by the end of this week.

The legislation earmarks US$768 billion for national defence, including US$7.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI), a US$2.1 billion increase in the Pentagon’s initial request.

The PDI is a six-year, US$27 billion plan to increase US strength in the Indo-Pacific, including in missile defence systems, logistics and collaboration with regional allies.

The funds will be spent on flights and voyages to “sustain a baseline steady state presence” in the Indo-Pacific, according to the summary of the bill, with plans to add new capabilities and initiatives down the track.

Zhao Tong, a senior fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, said the funding indicated that the US was determined to confront China head-on in terms of military might, as the two countries diverged over Taiwan and the South China Sea.

“Beijing is driven by its goals for national rejuvenation and Washington understands that it’s impossible for them to change China’s political mindset, which is counter to the one recognised by the Western world,” Zhao said.

In a document to Congress in March, the Indo-Pacific Command initially applied for US$4.68 billion for the following financial year, as well as US$22.69 billion from 2023 through to 2027 to meet its objectives. The Pentagon later increased that request to US$5.08 billion.

The document listed five areas of focus for the PDI: force design and posture; exercises, experimentation, and innovation; joint force lethality; logistics and security enablers; and strengthen allies and partners.

Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing, said the PDI investment indicated the US would upgrade its integrated joint forces with a precision-strike network along the first and second island chains in the Pacific to further contain China.

“The additional PDI spending will enhance the Pentagon’s plan to build more military outposts in the region, a move to strengthen the US military’s logistic supply chain in the Pacific, showing the US is planning a military intervention for any contingencies in Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea,” Zhou said.

“The Biden administration claimed the US military does not want to have a military conflict with China, but the PDI shows Washington is trying to stir up tensions among regional parties, which might result in military conflict with Beijing.”

The NDAA also includes sections calling for Taiwan’s participation in the 2022 Rim of the Pacific Exercise and recommending Taipei’s asymmetric defences be strengthened to counter a possible attack by the People’s Liberation Army.

Beijing sees self-ruled Taiwan as a breakaway province and has never renounced the use of force to reunite it with the mainland.

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