Top Democrat calls for carrots-and-sticks approach to China

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee on Friday laid out his vision for U.S. policy in Asia, calling for continued arms sales to Taiwan and a carrots-and-sticks approach toward China.

In one of his first foreign policy speeches as Armed Services ranking member, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said a friendly relationship between the United States and Beijing would lead to economic gain for both nations and regional stability.

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But Smith said a “balanced” policy approach is needed so the Chinese know the United States will get tough should the Asian giant act too aggressively. That will mean developing weaponry, making arms sales to Taiwan and developing strong partnerships across the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

Washington should welcome an economically vibrant and successful China, Smith said, because it will promote stability across the region. He added that he reached this conclusion after studying the United States’s Asian policy for some months.

Asia analysts have long said Beijing’s top priority is keeping the peace in its own neighborhood because, without it, China’s economic-growth plans and momentum likely would be thwarted or slowed considerably.

But working with Chinese officials on economic and other issues does not mean U.S. officials should cede America’s role as the Asia-Pacific’s other major power, Smith said.

Washington must continue to take a number of actions — militarily, diplomatically, economically and otherwise — to remain “a counterbalance” to China, Smith said during a Friday morning speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

That means continuing “limited” arms sales to Taiwan, including the sale of a batch of F-16 fighters to replace some of its aging jets. Recent media reports indicated that the Obama administration had nixed that planned sale, but officials contend that no final decision has been made.

Under Smith’s vision, Washington should work hard to develop a closer relationship with India as well, he said.

Analysts say China is concerned about the ramifications that India’s economic growth might have on the Chinese economy and Beijing’s standing in the global economy.

U.S. officials should move quickly to pass trade measures that would give America access to “lots of opportunities in Asia,” Smith said, starting with one focused on South Korea that Smith said Congress appears close to approving.

Smith is wary of allowing China’s secretive military build-up to lure the United States into a “Cold War-like arms race.” Trying to “build all this stuff” to match China’s military system-for-system would prove technologically and financially difficult, he said.

Smith’s stance on Beijing’s military build-up differs from Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee who use it as their top argument for maintaining or even increasing Pentagon annual spending despite the current U.S. fiscal picture.

Still, under Smith’s policy vision, Washington would develop the weaponry and policies that show Chinese officials that if they “step over the line,” the United States will be willing and able to inflict “a significant amount of pain.”

Without engaging in an arms race, Smith said, “we should be strong enough to defend our interests and I think we can do that.”