WASHINGTON — U.S. military officials have outlined a spending request to bolster deterrence against China after the coronavirus pandemic ebbs, a sign of how national security leaders are already studying ways to shore up the country’s standing in the Asia-Pacific region once the outbreak ends.
A report from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, delivered to Congress last week, calls for $20.1 billion in additional spending between 2021 and 2026. The funds would be spent on new radar warning systems and cruise missiles, and would also pay for more exercises with allies, deployments of additional forces and new intelligence-sharing centers. The efforts would help improve the U.S. military’s ability to deter the People’s Liberation Army.
The request, which was first reported by Defense News, shows that many in the military believe tensions between the U.S. and China are likely to grow amid the pandemic. President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping of China cut an uneasy peace in late March, each promising to dial back accusations of who was at fault for the spread of the virus, which is believed to have originated late last year at a market in Wuhan, China. But U.S. intelligence officials have said they expect tensions to flare again, and China to restart its efforts to deflect blame for the virus and spread disinformation about the U.S.’ role in its origin.
While Congress commissioned the report from the Indo-Pacific Command before the coronavirus plunged the world economy into chaos and heightened tensions between the U.S. and China, current and former national security officials said the spending request was more relevant now.
China is sure to use the aftermath of the virus to try to strengthen its hold on the Pacific region, according to lawmakers. But the U.S. will also have an opportunity to shore up its traditional allies.
The pandemic threatens to upend the status quo around the world, particularly in Asia, where the infections began, said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who has advocated increased military funding for the Pacific region.
“China understands that the global pandemic is an inflection point,” Hawley said. “They are trying to turn this to their advantage. Make no mistake, they are still pursuing their global strategic ambitions. The need for us to laser focus on China’s economic and military ambitions is going to be more urgent once we beat this pandemic, not less.”
Among the projects proposed in the report is a series of new intelligence-sharing centers. While the U.S. has close intelligence ties with New Zealand and Australia, its partnerships with allies in Southeast Asia are more anemic. The new money would create a counterterrorism center, an Oceania fusion center and other intelligence facilities.
The spending plan also calls for the U.S. to build up its missile defenses in Guam and other parts of the second island chain, which is farther east than the first island chain. It would fund radar installations in Hawaii, Palau and other locations to better track hypersonic missile threats.