By Kierstyn Schneck
April 16, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C.– What is the United States going to do about China?
That was the question senators of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services were asking themselves April 14 at the U.S. Defense Policy Issues Pertaining to the Asia-Pacific Theater hearing.
A handful of committee members, including the chairman, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and ranking member, Democrat Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, heard testimony from witnesses concerning the United States’ strategy in dealing with China’s economic and military expansions.
China outgrew the United States’ economy last year in terms of purchasing power, according to the International Monetary Fund. While China experienced a slower growth rate at the start of 2015, witness and director of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs Graham Allison said it’s time to be astonished.
“China was one-foot tall, relative to the U.S., in 1990,” Graham said. “Today, China looks us eye-to-eye in terms of the size of the economy.”
The U.S. economy is not shrinking, Graham said, but China’s power and influence has grown substantially at a faster rate.
The United States has been so preoccupied with the Middle East and South East Asia that it hasn’t properly focused on Asia as a whole, according to witness and CEO of The Asia Group, LLC, Kurt Campbell.
Witnesses stressed the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, otherwise known as TPP, as one solution to the China challenge. TPP is a regional treaty that would eliminate tariffs between participating countries and the United States, create labor and environmental standards, promote investments and better protect intellectual property, to name a few of its provisions.
China is not among the participating countries. If accepted, the United States would be bolstering its relations with the region in competition with China.
The United States could do everything right in Asia, Campbell said, but without TPP, it would still get a C minus for its relations in the region.
Congress will decide this week whether to fast track the vote to accept the TPP without adding amendments.
Campbell, a Democrat, called the TPP a bipartisan commitment. However, many Democrats in Congress don’t support the move to vote without being allowed to amend. The complete deal has not been made public, which has also become part of the partisan debate.
This debate remained absent during the Armed Services committee hearing. Instead, McCain commended the witnesses’ emphasis on the importance of the TPP.
The concern over China stretches beyond the economic threat it poses, according to the witnesses. The military is crucial, Campbell said, when creating a comprehensive strategy for the Asia-Pacific Theater.
The United States’ military capabilities still dwarf that of any other country in the region, according to witness Michael Green, who is the senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. However, China’s campaign to build military and paramilitary facilities and its increasing anti-access and area-denial capabilities means the United States needs to be more active in deterring China, Green said.
China’s military strategy has changed from bide and hide to fight and win, according to witness and Admiral Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.).
Because of China’s expansions in the South China Sea, Roughead suggested increasing the number of ships and aircraft, as well as introducing drones, in the Indo-Pacific region despite budgetary issues.
Having unmanned capabilities in this region will be important, according to Roughead, as China moves into the drone space.
“We can’t simply be a military one-trick pony,” Roughead said. “It will be important to we have that capability to strike long, be able to stay airborne for a long time and operate away from the carriers.”
The United States can’t just overwhelm with its resources anymore, however, Allison said; it has to be smarter in its strategies for the entire region.
“What’s important about Asia, ladies and gentleman, [is that] no other arena in the world has been more affected by congressional leadership,” Campbell said. “No other place is more influenced by the men and women in this chamber.”