McKeon sees modernizing Chinese military as a top threat

As Rep. Buck McKeon takes the gavel of the House Armed Services Committee, defense observers can expect ample focus on what the new chairman considers a top threat: China’s improving military.

The California Republican on Sunday again mentioned China’s rapid military modernization effort as one of the United States’s top threats, ranking in the same class as the war in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

“Right now, I’d say probably Afghanistan is a pretty important threat. We’re not totally finished with Iraq. I look at Iran,” McKeon said during an appearance on “This Week in Defense News.”

“I look at China and they’re pushing back, all of the anti-access that they’re doing,” McKeon said, quickly adding North Korea to his list of top threats.

Anti-access is a reference to Pentagon parlance for weapons like medium- and long-range missiles and other weapons intended to prevent an enemy force from advancing into one’s territory. For several years, China has been developing missiles and other weapons intended to deter — or forcibly halt — a U.S. military presence near Chinese shores or a rapid invasion by American troops.

"China's long-term, comprehensive transformation of its military forces is improving its capacity for force projection and anti-access/area-denial," the Pentagon concluded in its 2010 report on Chinese military power, released in August. However, DoD does question Beijing’s ability to sustain such operations over time.

McKeon says as China has become a bigger player on the global stage, it has not shied from throwing around its newfound weight.

“We’ve sold weapons to Taiwan for years,” he said. But “last time we talked about selling them F/A-18s, China got pretty upset. We said, ‘Why?’ They said, ‘Well, we’re stronger now.’ ”

The new chairman also has concerns about another Asian menace.

“I look at North Korea, the things that they’re doing while we’re cutting back our missile defense,” said McKeon, referring to North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.

He said he worries about cutting U.S. defense spending, and that the Pentagon is not doing enough to address the Chinese and North Korean threats.

“Some of these things just don’t really make sense to me. I understand the budget problems, but I think what we should be looking at is: What are our defense needs?” McKeon said. “How do we come up with the money to handle it, not how much money do we have and then, 'OK, we can buy just this much defense.' "

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