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Recently, the Department of Defense released its annual report to Congress on China’s military capabilities and activities. Providing valuable information to Congress about China’s military, the report comes at an important time for Congress as it grapples with difficult decisions about defense cuts brought about by the sequester.
The DOD report describes China’s military in stark contrast to the situation currently confronting the U.S. military. China’s military capabilities continue to expand, resulting in increased tensions in the Asia Pacific. Meanwhile, the U.S. military is affected by arbitrarily imposed budget cuts that could weaken its ability to safeguard the stability of the region. While the Asia Pacific is far from the United States, the continued peace and prosperity of this dynamic region is vital to the United States. Congress needs to prioritize U.S. military capabilities necessary to maintain stability in the Asia Pacific.
According to the DOD report, China continues its decadeslong effort to comprehensively modernize its military. This year China’s defense budget grew by more than 10 percent, further strengthening Chinese military capabilities. Of note, the report details China’s development of disruptive capabilities that could be used against U.S. forces in the region in the event of a conflict, such as antisatellite, cyber and conventional ballistic missile capabilities.
A stronger military also provides Beijing with the means to pursue narrowly defined interests in the region. China’s growing military capabilities exacerbate its disputed maritime claims in the region, as recent crises with Japan and the Philippines demonstrate. Of note, both of these countries are treaty allies with the United States. As China continues to strengthen its military, the likelihood of a major crisis in the Asia Pacific will increase.
For almost seven decades, the U.S. military has guaranteed the overall peace and stability of the region. U.S. forces have ensured freedom of navigation in regional waters. During times of crises, the U.S. military has dispatched forces to prevent an altercation from escalating into a major war. In a region unfortunately beset by natural disasters, the U.S. military is usually one of the first on the scene to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
The importance of Asia-Pacific stability cannot be overstated. The Asia Pacific is experiencing unprecedented social and economic growth. The region is home to the world’s second- and third-largest economies. Furthermore, the U.S. economy is increasingly intertwined with this dynamic region.
However, the DOD is currently grappling with how to implement $500 billion in defense cuts over the next 10 years. To make matters worse, these cuts are not imposed in a well-thought-out way, but rather across the board. This will increase the uncertainty about U.S. defense priorities and reduce the U.S. military’s readiness. Eventually, these budget cuts will weaken the military’s ability to act as a stabilizing force in the Asia Pacific.