- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The United States should build up military forces in Asia to counter China's military expansion, according to a report on U.S.-China relations by a blue-ribbon panel.

“The United States should sustain and selectively enhance its force posture in East Asia, ensuring it has capabilities commensurate with the region’s growing importance to the U.S. economy and other vital national interests,” the report by a task force of the Council on Foreign Relations stated.

The task force, whose report was made public yesterday, was led by retired Pacific Command chief Adm. Dennis Blair and former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills.

“We believe that the United States should maintain the air, maritime and space superiority that we have in the Western Pacific that’s been the basis of a lot of Western Pacific/East Asian development ever since the end of the Second World War. And we need to maintain that position,” Adm. Blair said.

The report stated that upgrades to the U.S. military base on the Pacific island of Guam should continue and that the U.S. military should “invest broadly” in next-generation technologies that are appropriate for the Pacific, such as advanced naval and air forces.

The Pentagon also should consider “shifting the balance of its naval forces toward the Pacific from the Atlantic,” the report stated.

“The maritime interests of the United States in the future are increasingly in the Asia-Pacific region, and the stationing of its naval forces should be aligned with this trend,” it stated.

The buildup and shift of forces to the Pacific is part of what the Pentagon calls its “hedge” strategy of being ready to defeat China swiftly in any military conflict.

The report also stated that the United States needs to improve its intelligence-gathering and analysis of the Chinese military, including training more intelligence specialists with Chinese language skills.

The task force disagrees with part of the Pentagon’s four-year strategy, stating that it does not think China will become a “peer competitor” of the U.S. military in the near future.

“We don’t see it becoming a peer competitor, but we think the United States needs to maintain its capability that it’s had,” Adm. Blair said.

Richard Fisher, a specialist on China's military, said he disagrees strongly with that assessment.

“By 2010, most of China’s anti-access forces will be in place, making it very difficult to use Pacific forces to help Taiwan,” Mr. Fisher said. “Unless we double the number of our aircraft carriers and triple our bomber fleet, China is going to be a peer competitor by 2030.”

The 30-member task force included former government officials, business specialists and academics, most of whom are known to favor conciliatory policies toward Beijing.

They include former Defense Secretary Harold Brown, defense officials Ashton B. Carter and Charles Freeman, and former State Department officials Winston Lord, Wendy Sherman and Randy Schriver.

Arthur Waldron, a task force member and University of Pennsylvania professor, said the report accurately highlights the many problems and issues facing China at home and abroad but fails to recognize that they could lead to a rapid and spontaneous change that “is more risky and volatile than anything we have seen to date in China.”