Congress urged to counter Chinese naval buildup

An advisory committee told lawmakers on Wednesday that China is seeking to dislodge U.S. forces from the Pacific and urged them to shift military resources there.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in its annual report said that Chinese naval forces could dominate the western Pacific by 2020. It recommended that Congress boost defense funding so the Navy could increase its presence in the Asia-Pacific to at least 60 ships.

“Major elements” of China's military modernization “are really designed to restrict U.S. freedom of action throughout the western Pacific,” Commissioner Larry Wortzel testified before the House Armed Services Committee. 

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Asked what his biggest concern was with China's military buildup, Vice Chairman Dennis Shea said it appears aimed at asserting Chinese influence over the western Pacific. China has territorial disputes with several U.S. allies in the region, notably Japan and the Philippines, and is keen to reassert control over Taiwan.

“They're trying to deny access to the western Pacific for U.S. forces … and basically remove the United States as the predominant military force in that region of the world,” Shea said. 

The commission's recommendations track closely with the Navy's own plans. Then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced last year his intention to have 60 percent of naval forces in the Pacific by 2020, up from 50 percent today. 

“That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, combat ships and submarines,” Panetta told an annual military summit last June.

Despite the rhetoric about a rising Chinese threat, lawmakers were keen to point out that confrontation can and should be avoided.

“There is no reason that we should have China as an enemy,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the committee. "We should certainly look for ways to work together and I think we have an increasing number of common interests in terms of peace and stability.”

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