Joe Biden

Joe Biden’s US$715 billion defence spending request to counter ‘top challenge’ from China

US President Joe Biden’s upcoming budget proposal will seek US$715 billion for the Pentagon this year, in part to counter the “top challenge” of China.

The proposal was the latest signal from the new administration that it sees competition with China as an urgent priority.

“The discretionary request prioritises the need to counter the threat from China as the [Defence] Department’s top challenge,” a summary of the upcoming budget proposal released by the White House on Friday said.

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Biden has not yet released a full, detailed list of his spending requests in the budget, but the 58-page summary included spending on “executable and responsible” investments in the US Navy fleet, on “ongoing nuclear modernisation programmes” and on “enhancing existing long-range strike capabilities”.

It also listed the “development and testing of hypersonic strike capabilities”, along with investments in “breakthrough technologies that would drive innovation and underpin the development of next-generation defence capabilities”.

“Leveraging the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and working together with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, DOD would ensure that the United States builds the concepts, capabilities, and posture necessary to meet these challenges,” the summary said.

Despite the slim details in Biden’s proposal, lawmakers were quick to comment on what they knew so far, with criticism and praise criss-crossing party lines. It will ultimately be up to Congress to decide how much funding the Pentagon and the rest of the federal government will receive.

Representative Ro Khanna, a progressive Democrat from California and member of the House Armed Services Committee, called the president’s desire for increased Pentagon spending “disappointing”.

“We should be returning toward Obama levels,” Khanna said in a tweet. “Not pouring more money into price gouging defence contractors & wasteful projects.”

Ohio Representative Mike Turner, a Republican member of the same committee, said in a statement: “A 3-5 per cent increase in defence spending over the inflation adjusted FY21 enacted level is necessary to keep America and our allies safe. However, President Biden’s proposed ‘skinny’ budget fails to account for this growth, and this could mean cuts to critical programmes.”

Turner said while he was “encouraged that the Biden administration intends to support nuclear modernisation, amid growing threats from China, North Korea, Iran and Russia, any defence cuts will be cause for concern”.

Maryland Democrat Anthony Brown, another member of the armed services committee, said Biden’s proposal “reflects the realities of global security”.

“A robust defence budget allows the United States and our allies to collectively maintain necessary levels of deterrence for peace and stability against revisionist powers such as China and Russia, rogue actors like North Korea and Iran and terrorist networks,” Brown said in a statement.

In a letter to congressional appropriators, Shalanda Young, the acting director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, said that the full budget proposal would be made public “in the months ahead”.

The budget proposal is only the latest instance in which the new administration has turned competition with China into a rallying cry for more federal investment and sweeping legislation.

Biden cited China as a motivating factor behind his new $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which he announced last week.

“You think China is waiting around to invest in this digital infrastructure, on research and development?” Biden said on Wednesday. “I promise you, they are not waiting. But they’re counting on American democracy to be too slow, too limited and too divided to keep pace.”

Eric Sayers, a former adviser to Admiral Harry Harris, who led the US Navy’s Pacific Command, said the details of Biden’s budget request released so far were promising.

“This budget outline gets the strategic priorities right on China, shipbuilding, long-range strike, and nuclear modernisation,” said Sayers, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute think tank. “But we will need to wait for the detailed request to assess the level of budget prioritisation in these areas.”

“I am also encouraged that it makes reference to the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, an effort designed to respond to the near-term PLA [People’s Liberation Army] threat of the 2020s,” Sayers added. “But the devil will be in the details about the Pentagon’s true commitment to the PDI.”

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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