Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Pentagon is debating how to field the right mix of weapons to deal with China’s growing military power, a top Air Force general said yesterday.

“The enhancements that we see of the Chinese military does cause concern,” Gen. T. Michael Moseley said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be Air Force chief of staff.

Meanwhile, two senior House members are set to introduce legislation today that would punish European companies that sell arms to China.

Gen. Moseley said at the hearing that finding the right numbers of long-range strike aircraft and missiles to deal with China is “the topic of much discussion and much dialogue” as part of the congressionally-required Quadrennial Defense Review.

The general said the question of how much strike power is needed is “troubling” because of the need to balance those weapons with other Air Force missions. But long-range strike weapons will be “at the top of my list” of priorities, if he is confirmed, Gen. Moseley said.

Gen. Moseley noted that concerns about the China buildup and how to counter it also were discussed recently by Gen. Paul Hester, the commander of Pacific Air Forces.

Gen. Hester told reporters at a breakfast that China’s secrecy surrounding its arms buildup has made it difficult for the Air Force to plan its force structure for the Pacific.

China has purchased hundreds of Russian Su-27 fighter-bombers, is buying more advanced Su-30s and has begun producing a new J-10 indigenous fighter. Gen. Hester said advanced missiles have given Beijing the capability of pinpointing U.S. and allied military targets in the region.

In response, the Air Force is building up its forces on Guam, in the far western Pacific. Plans call for adding B-2 and B-1 bombers, jet fighters, support aircraft and eventually the long-range Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles, Gen. Hester said.

Gen. Hester said the warplanes can be used in the Pacific in the event of a conflict and send a political message by their presence, “so that people see them, if you will, in the Pacific.”

The East Asia Security Act is set to be introduced by Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat.

The bill would require regular U.S. government reports to Congress on European arms sales to Beijing. It then would impose limited sanctions on companies that continue to violate the European Union’s embargo on such weapons sales.

The embargo was imposed after the bloody 1989 military crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“Business likes certainty,” a House aide said. “This bill injects a high degree of uncertainty in what might happen if they continue to sell arms to China, and it will require greater openness and transparency about transactions that in too many cases now are largely hidden from public scrutiny.”

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