Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives are pushing for the Pentagon to provide more accurate reports on China’s military development and for tighter controls on defense-related technology transfers to foreign countries.
Randy Forbes, chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, said on Thursday the measures — which his panel included in next year’s defense authorization bill — were aimed at addressing China’s two decades of double-digit military budget growth and “aspirations of supplanting the US position in the [Asia-Pacific] region.”
“Instead of providing a frank assessment of People’s Liberation Army capabilities, the China power report has become a political document that is watered down by various government agencies to avoid offending the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” Forbes, a Republican, said in a statement.
China and the US have become increasingly wary of each other’s strategic intent in recent years. Washington is concerned about a rapid military buildup by Beijing, even though it still spends about six times as much on defense as China.
Next year’s bill that sets out policies for the Pentagon still must be approved by the full House and the Senate before being sent to US President Barack Obama.
Forbes said he added an amendment that would expand the Pentagon’s annual “military power report on China” to add assessments from top US officers in the Hawaii-based Pacific Command on gaps in intelligence on China.
A second Forbes amendment calls on the Pentagon to conduct a “closer examination of military strategies and capabilities that impose disproportionate costs on potential adversaries such as China and Iran,” the statement said.
The amended defense bill obliges the Pentagon to advise Congress of the potential national security risks of the transfer to foreign countries of dual-use or military technologies developed under Defense Department contracts.
The amendments were unveiled as the US-China Economic and Security Commission, a separate panel that advises Congress on China, heard expert testimony on Chinese efforts to innovate technology, including in the defense sector.
Thomas Mahnken, a professor at the US Naval War College, told the panel that overestimating China’s military growth and modernization could risk sparking an arms race in the Asia-Pacific, while underestimating the Chinese build-up could open the US and allies to surprises in the future.
“It is increasingly apparent that the United States has underestimated the scope and pace of Chinese military modernization,” he told the panel, citing the unveiling of a China’s J-20 stealth fighter in January last year and an earlier test of an anti-satellite weapon.