U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin listens during a press conference at the Pentagon on March 15, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Pentagon leaders suggested to Congress that its main geopolitical challenge going forward isn’t Russia, but the People’s Republic of China.
In testimony today on the latest $842 billion defense budget in front of the House Appropriations subcommittee, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III told committee members that the U.S. should be prepared for conflict with China, which he called the military’s “pacing challenge.”
He qualified that Russia is a foe that is presently a problem with its continuing military aggression all over Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“This is a strategy-driven budget—and one driven by the seriousness of our strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China,” he said. “Now, our National Defense Strategy calls out Putin’s highly aggressive Russia as an ‘acute threat.’”
There’s no question the current U.S. commitment to countering President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly imperialist ambitions reconstituting a neo-Russian Empire. Just this week, the Pentagon topped up an additional $350 million worth of new weapons to Ukraine, which brings the total of Pentagon aid to the embattled country to $33.2 billion. That also included speeding up the delivery of M1-Abrams tanks and helping to convince European Union allies to commit to supplying Kyiv with over a million rounds of new artillery shells.
But the Pentagon has already given clues that it considers China its biggest military challenge, something Austin echoed in his opening remarks.
“And the P.R.C. is our pacing challenge,” he said. “And we’re driving hard to meet it. Our budget builds on our previous investments to deter aggression by increasing our edge.”
China has been increasing its defense spending in recent years, growing 7.2 percent this year to $230 billion.
In recent months, the spy balloon debacle mixed with a Chinese intel scandal in Canada to the north, and Beijing’s flirtations at arming the Kremlin in its war in Ukraine, has brought relations between the U.S. and China to a decades-old low.
The Biden administration has also done its part to upset Chinese officials of late by committing to new military force projection in Southeast Asia. In recent months, the Pentagon has inked deals for new U.S. bases in China’s backyard: Japan and the Philippines will see new U.S. military installation, while Australia will be building a nuclear submarine fleet under American stewardship, to counter the Chinese navy.
Then, in January, a memo was leaked showing an American four-star general predicting World War III with China was drawing dangerously near.
“I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we’ll fight in 2025,” said U.S. Air Force General Mike Minihan in the memo.
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