U.S to boost Pacific spending to counter China, but no ‘real number’ yet


The U.S has announced it will boost military spending in the Pacific to counter China.

The White House’s Indo-Pacific Strategy announcement didn’t include any money attached to it, but that should change in the next federal budget, according to Camille Dawson, deputy assistant secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

As every close watcher of the military knows, money is the expression of strategy and the fiscal 2022 budget had already been fixed by the time the White House approved this strategy, she said.

“The current fiscal year budget had already gone through the process by that time, so we will be looking to next year’s budget to incorporate the additional items outlined in the Indo-Pacific strategy. So we can’t give a real number now,” she said Tuesday, answering a question from the audience at AUSA’s conference on Pacific land power.

She noted that “at the end of our Indo-Pacific strategy document [PDF] and the 10-point action plan, the very first line of effort listed in that action plan describes how we will drive new resources to the region.”

In the meantime, Dawson said the administration has announced the reopening of an embassy in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, and is “talking about expanding our diplomatic presence elsewhere.” The Solomons, of course, are the site of what appears to be a significant victory for China, with the government there signing a secret security pact that may allow Chinese troops and ships to operate from the island nation.

Dawson declared that the Pacific islands “has really risen to the fore in recent times” at the State Department and other agencies.

She addressed a parallel issue, the issue of whether America can cope with the awful war in Ukraine, which is clearly the top day to day issue for the administration, and keep its eye clearly on the Pacific to best influence Chinese behaviour.

“We aim to prove that we can stay focused on the region despite the very real power moves elsewhere,” she said after mentioning Ukraine. She pointed to the U.S-ASEAN Special Summit, held last week in Washington as an indicator. “Of course, we know that showing up for meetings and summits is important, but is not enough.” And that’s why there will be money in the next federal budget to help make the words of the Info-Pacific Strategy real.

Her fellow panelist Elbridge Colby, former deputy assistant secretary of defence for strategy and force development, was less sanguine.

China, he said, has embarked on building a military designed for distant power projection, not territorial defence, as has been the traditional Chinese approach.

“I worry there’s an urgency that’s not being reflected in Washington, that there’s a sense that we can take our time in getting around to this problem, but I think that’s a mistake because I think a lot of China’s capabilities may be present in this decade,” he said. “But will we be ready?” said Colby.