- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2008


One of the top priorities for the Obama administration must be to establish policy regarding China’s military buildup. According to an October report by the secretary of state’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB), China’s Communist Party leadership has been accumulating weapons at a startling rate - one far exceeding what American intelligence analysts deem necessary for China’s security. The report calls for the United States to modernize its weapons and keep pace with the growing challenge in the region. This is the first deficiency the Obama administration must address.

President-elect Barack Obama will have to “make hard decisions about where to put resources,” John J. Tkacik, senior fellow in Asian studies at the Heritage Foundation, told The Washington Times. “The Obama administration has to decide whether the United States wants to remain the pre-eminent power in Asia or whether we will acquiesce in China’s preeminence,” he said.

Chinese officials claim that the buildup is “defensive” and insist that Beijing’s intentions are “peaceful.” But China’s neighbors are not convinced. Taiwan, an independent, democratic state that China claims as part of its sovereign territory, has concluded a $6.5 billion arms deal with the United States and still wants more arms, including F-16 fighter jets. Japan, too, is alarmed at China’s insistent claims on its territory in the South China Sea. India is also on alert. In the past year alone, there have been about 180 separate Chinese military incursions into India´s border areas, according to Mr. Tkacik.

The Chinese government is shrouding in mystery the extent of the buildup. According to a Pentagon report released in March, denial and deception are cornerstones of China’s arms program: “The lack of transparency in China’s military and security affairs poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation.” The point was later emphasized by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. “A lack of clarity about a neighbor’s strategic intentions all too often prompts reliance, and sometimes over-reliance, on counter-strategies and hedging that can, over time, yield to outright suspicion,” he said in a late-May speech before a gathering of Asian defense officials. Beijing, however, refuses to provide more openness - and the communist regime has even canceled military visits and port calls to protest the U.S.-Taiwan arms deal.

It is imperative that U.S. government agencies resolve their longstanding differences over China policy, and forge a coherent, unified approach. “The National Security staff and the State Department regard China as an essential partner in co-managing the region. But the Defense Department is more wary about partnerships and wants the focus to be on making contingency plans to deal with the rising threat,” Mr. Tkacik said.

Then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama said in April 2007 in a Democratic debate that China is “neither our enemy nor our friend. They’re competitors.” This is an optimistic interpretation of China’s rise. Mr. Obama wants to establish a deeper relationship or partnership with China. But the new administration should not waste too much energy attempting to co-opt a Chinese regime whose interests often conflict with ours. The best course of action would be to heed the warnings about the buildup and to retain a high state of military readiness. However, given the limited resources available, Mr. Obama must also strengthen our alliances with India, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and Mongolia as part of a containment strategy. Investments in updating our weapons systems and bolstering our alliances will pay dividends in keeping China at bay.

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