Sun, May 06, 2018 - Page 1 News List

US lawmakers set defense bill with eye on Beijing


Tanks parade past US first lady Melania Trump, front row third left, US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron, during a Bastille Day parade on the Champs Elysees in Paris on July 14 last year.

Photo: AP

The US House of Representatives on Friday released details of a US$717 billion annual defense policy bill, including efforts to compete with Russia and China and a measure to temporarily halt weapons sales to Turkey.

The House Committee on Armed Services is next week to debate the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes the level of defense spending and sets policies controlling how the funding is used.

One of the few pieces of major legislation passed by the US Congress every year, the NDAA is used as a vehicle for a broad range of policy measures, as well as determining everything from military pay levels and benefits to which ships or aircraft will be modernized, purchased or discontinued.

The committee would not release the bill itself until next week, but Republicans, who control the panel, and the minority Democrats, each released summaries.

On Russia, the proposed NDAA for the next fiscal year includes provisions such as imposing new sanctions on Russia’s arms industry in response to treaty violations, prohibiting military-to-military cooperation and providing more funding for cyberwarfare.

However, it also includes a rule, backed by US President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, that would allow Trump to end some sanctions imposed on Russia in legislation that Congress passed overwhelmingly last summer despite the president’s objections.

On China, the proposed NDAA includes provisions including improving Taiwan’s defense capabilities and barring any US government agency from using “risky” technology produced by Huawei Technologies Co (華為) and ZTE Corp (中興), which a committee statement describes as “linked to the Chinese Communist Party’s intelligence apparatus.”

Washington has made a series of moves aimed at stopping or reducing access by Huawei and ZTE to the US economy amid allegations that the telecommunications equipment companies could be using their technology to spy on US citizens.

The legislation would also ask the US Department of Defense to provide Congress with a report on the relationship between the US and Turkey, and would block the sale of major defense equipment until the report was complete.

Although Turkey is a NATO ally, relations between Ankara and Washington have deteriorated. Turkey supported the US fight against the Islamic State, but has become increasingly worried about US backing for Kurdish fighters in Syria.

In addition, Republicans on the committee included a provision in the NDAA authorizing a military parade, endorsing the expenditure as long as it does not interfere with troop readiness and does not include tanks.

Trump earlier this year asked the Pentagon to explore a parade celebrating US troops, after the Republican president marveled at the Bastille Day military parade he attended in Paris in July last year.

Critics have argued that the parade could cost millions of dollars at a time when the department wants more stable funding for an overstretched military, and would force potentially thousands of troops to work on the Veterans Day holiday on Nov. 11, when they would normally have a day off.

This Nov. 11 is the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.

The NDAA is several steps from becoming law. The final version of the legislation would be a compromise reached later this year by House and US Senate negotiators between separate versions of the bill approved in the two chambers.

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