WASHINGTON — The U.S. should forge stronger military ties with Taiwan and add $7.5 billion in national defense spending in the Pacific region in order to counter Chinese influence in the region, according to a legislative proposal from four U.S. senators.
The bipartisan Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, or ARIA, would authorize $1.5 billion annually for five years to deter and defend against China. A mix of State Department and Defense Department funds would bolster the U.S. military presence and readiness in the region, improving defense infrastructure and critical munitions stockpiles.
The bill would also support regular arms sales to Taiwan, and fund the enforcement of freedom-of-navigation and overflight rights — moves to defy Beijing’s calls to keep out of the contested South China Sea.
CNBC reported this month that China had installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its outposts in the South China Sea.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Cory Gardner, chairs the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity. he said the idea had originally come from Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain, R-Ariz., and that he would work with appropriators to see it funded.
“This is not a new concept, and this is as close as we’ve come to an Asia-Pacific security initiative,” Gardner told reporters Tuesday.
The other sponsors are the subpanel’s ranking member, Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Todd Young, R-Ind. The name of the bill recalls the European Reassurance Initiative, a pot of money to bolster European capabilities against Russia—since renamed the European Deterrence Initiative.
On Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver and Deputy East Asian and Pacific Affairs Alex Wong, appeared before Gardner’s subpanel, where they endorsed the legislation’s goals.
“With the help of Congress and the funding provided, we’re trying to build a force that’s appropriate to the longer-term challenges with China’s military modernization program, and trying to work with allies and partners to make sure they are adequately equipped and prepared for those long-term challenges,” Schriver said.
The U.S. is already boosting allies’ maritime domain awareness and maritime capabilities. The bill would augment foreign military financing and international military education and training programs, both with the idea to help partners “to resist coercion and to deter and defend against security threats.”
The bill explicitly excludes Myanmar, whose military has been accused of human rights violations, and Philippine counternarcotics activities, which have been linked to extrajudicial killings
In written testimony, Schriver emphasized the fiscal 2019 budget proposal’s investment in joint, integrated fires to “reach inside an adversary’s anti-access and area-denial envelope with advanced, long-range munitions.”
The Pentagon’s implementation of the National Defense Strategy calls for dispersal equipment and “survivable, sustainable logistics” to help in a potential conflict with China.
Schriver said the competition with China was not only a military rivalry with the U.S. The U.S. is seeking to partner with all nations that respect national sovereignty, fair and reciprocal trade and the rule of law.
“It’s a competition of ideas and values and interests. I think many more countries, including the most significant and influential counties in Asia outside of China support these concepts,” Schriver said.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.