A $6.9 billion U.S. military initiative that’s moving through the Senate would aid beleaguered Taiwan and Vietnam by thwarting major threats from their rival China. The bill is seen as an outgrowth of the 2018 Asia Reassurance Initiative Act and is expected to bolster U.S. naval forces in the Western Pacific. Senators are working on the Pacific Deterrence Initiative with a budget of $1.4 billion in the initiative’s first year for U.S. military activity in Asia and $5.5 billion in its second year.
Beijing claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own and vies separately with Vietnam over sovereignty in western parts of the South China Sea. U.S. officials see China as a rival superpower and smaller Asian governments, including Taiwan and Vietnam, as allies in containing Chinese maritime expansion. China has flown military aircraft into the island’s air defense zone five times since June 9.â€“ China sent a survey ship earlier this year into the Southeast Asian country’s exclusive economic zone.
The Pacific Deterrence Initiative sends a “strong signal to the Chinese Communist Party that America is deeply committed to defending our interests in the Indo-Pacific,” the Senate Armed Services Committee said in its 2021 budget act. Specifically, the initiative would “focus resources on key military capability gaps,” reassure U.S. allies, and improve the “credibility” of American deterrence, the committee said. U.S. forces should look at building runways, adding theater missile defenses and improving command, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense Randy Schriver wrote in a March 10 commentary.
The 2018 act calls for supporting a close security relationship with Taiwan and encourages visits to Taiwan by high-level U.S. officials. That act, which followed a period of confusion in Southeast Asia about U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy for the region, further directs the U.S. government to deepen “security cooperation” with Vietnam. Vietnam is due this year to receive a second U.S. Coast Guard cutter for its own coastal defense. The U.S. Navy has sent warships seven times this year to date through the strait separating China from Taiwan, comforting Taiwanese people and angering Beijing.
Extra funding from Washington would allow “high-end” deterrence against China, said Euan Graham, senior fellow with the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. But U.S. forces will still find it hard to overcome China’s long-term hold over Asian waters, he said. Beijing uses its navy, coast guard, fishing fleets and economic incentives to occupy disputed islets in the South China Sea. U.S. allies Malaysia and the Philippines also contest Chinese claims to the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea but get along better with Beijing diplomatically than Vietnam does.