PRO: China needs reminding — America is also an Asian power
By James Jay Carafano
WASHINGTON — Asia is one of the earth’s most ethnically and religiously diverse regions. But in geopolitics, it’s a place, not an ethnicity, and America is just as much an Asian power as China.
If it takes a bigger U.S. military footprint for Beijing to wise up to that, so be it.
The Indo-Pacific is bordered by continents on both sides of the oceans. The U.S. — and all of North and South America — have just as great an interest in the region’s future and well-being as do those on its western shoulder.
Hence, America has every right to be concerned about the destabilizing impact of China’s rise.
China has reneged on its guarantees to Hong Kong’s freedom, threatened Taiwan, supported North Korea’s nuclear program, laid debt traps for Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and sought to restrict freedom of the seas in the South China Sea. And that’s just a partial list of Beijing’s transgressions.
Instead of working to increase world peace, stability and prosperity, China is actively undermining it.
Thankfully, the current administration has been pushing back — and doing so in the right way — politically and diplomatically. One key area is defense policy.
For years, Beijing has been followed an “anti-access, area denial” strategy, fielding military capabilities that make it more difficult for the U.S. to operate safely and effectively in the Indo-Pacific.
China’s plan is to “win without fighting,” confronting America one day with the cold realization that the U.S. is no longer a real military power in the Indo-Pacific.
The only realistic counter to China’s scheme is to demonstrate the capacity that proves them wrong — to show them that America is willing and able to defend our vital interests.
We have a ways to go. Each year The Heritage Foundation publishes the “Index of U.S. Military Strength.” In 2018, the index concluded the Chinese military threat is still growing.
Beijing can count. If we want to show them America is no pushover, we have to demonstrate a firm commitment to field the forces needed to counter their growing might.
To neutralize the threat, we must expand our military capability and capacity in the Indo-Pacific — on land, above and below the sea, in the air and in space and in cyberspace. We need more numbers for sure — more ships in particular. But we also need to field some capabilities we don’t have now.
Among those not-yet-there items needed is a long-range strike stealth drone that can be launched from a carrier. Other yet-to-be-developed capabilities would include a land-based anti-ship cruise missile.
The need for a beefed-up presence in the Asian Pacific is nothing new. President Barack Obama spoke of the need to “pivot to Asia,” although very little pivoting was actually done in his last term.
Washington can field the forces America needs in a cost-effective, responsible manner if it can commit to sustained investment in defense over time.
China knows that, but the regime won’t believe the U.S. can neutralize Beijing’s military build-up unless it sees real, continued and persistent efforts by the White House and Capitol Hill to strengthen U.S. forces year-to-year.
Unfortunately, this effort is in jeopardy. Unless Congress can agree on a budget, the defense appropriation next year will be sequestered. Translated into real-world effects, that means defense spending will be cut by a third, leaving the military virtually no resources for beefing up. Under sequestration, the Pentagon will be able to do little more than make payroll and keep the lights on.
This is no time for Washington to play chicken over the National Defense Authorization Act and the defense appropriations bill. Both parties should be able to put aside the partisan squabbling to fulfill the core function of the federal government: to provide for the national defense.
Remember, Beijing is watching.
A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think-tank’s research into matters of national security and foreign relations.
CON: Deliberately sailing into areas China considers as territorial waters is not a good idea
By John B. Quigley
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The United States is raising the profile of its naval activity in response to Chinese assertiveness in the waters of the South China Sea. But it is far from clear that such activity on our part will resolve the admittedly volatile situation in those waters.
Tension has been highest of late in waters not far from the Philippines that are claimed by China. Fishing rights are the flash point. In May, U.S. Coast Guard ships staged a joint exercise with two Philippines naval vessels in those waters. The apparent purpose was to send a message to China.
It is hard to ascertain how much help the Philippines wants, or whether we are pushing it to take it.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has been going easy on China over its incursions in Philippines-claimed waters in return for billions of dollars of Chinese investments in his country.
Duterte is under pressure domestically to challenge China more vigorously, especially in the wake of a recent incident in which a Filipino fishing vessel was rammed and sunk, apparently by a Chinese vessel.
The introduction of the U.S. Coast Guard in the picture is a recent development. Coast Guard cutters USCGC Bertholf and USCGC Stratton are now deployed with the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, operating out of its base in Yokosuka, Japan.
Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander Vice Admiral Linda Fagan says that a Coast Guard presence in the South China Sea shores up the sovereignty of “partner nations” in the disputed waters.
“Partner nations” would include the Philippines and Vietnam, which is also in contention with China over waters in the South China Sea. Vice Admiral Fagan explains that the Coast Guard vessels help “law enforcement and capacity-building in the fisheries enforcement realm.”
You can be forgiven if you are surprised that the Coast Guard has a Pacific Area Command, or that it bases vessels in Japan. A Coast Guard website explains, proudly, that its Pacific Area Command encompasses “six of the seven continents, 71 countries, and more than 74 million square miles of ocean.”
The Coast Guard was created by an Act of Congress to guard our own coasts. By one provision of that law the president may send the Coast Guard to assist foreign governments. But the worldwide reach developed by the Coast Guard goes far beyond what Congress authorized.
The Navy’s Seventh Fleet already has 75 ships and submarines and 140 aircraft. Its personnel roster tops 40,000. That is more than enough for a mission whose aims are not well-defined. Some of its personnel have formed a brass band that gives good-will concerts in Asia.
A Navy website explaining our policy stresses that we have treaties with Korea, Japan and the Philippines to defend them if they are attacked. But the treaties don’t require long-term deployment of thousands of naval personnel.
The most visible component of U.S. naval policy has been so-called “freedom of navigation” operations, where we send a vessel into waters of the South China Sea that China claims as territorial waters.
China often reacts to actions it considers as trespassing. In a number of instances, these operations have nearly resulted in military confrontation.
Our naval presence in Asia, if it is to continue at all, needs clarification.
At a recent security conference in Singapore, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan criticized China for its territorial claims in the South China Sea. But while in Singapore, Shanahan met with China’s Minister of Defense to plan for exchanges between the two militaries. We seem to be coordinating militarily with China at the same time as we are confronting it.
Until we have precise objectives in the South China Sea, and ways to carry them out that don’t violate federal law, there is little reason to fund large naval forces there.
John B. Quigley is a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law and a leading scholar on U.S. relations with Russia.