Coronavirus News Asia

Trump, Abe must reinvest in China deterrence


Recent weeks have seen China engaging in various illegal maritime incursions and other aggressive behavior toward Vietnam, Japan and other Indo-Pacific states. These unsettling series of actions by Chinese naval, coast guard and maritime militia vessels are a deliberate attempt to test the resolve of the US, Japan and the broader region at a time when governments are distracted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Indo-Pacific region mustn’t wait for a convenient time to respond to Beijing’s unlawful assertions of territorial sovereignty. While the challenges posed by Covid-19 have occupied every leader’s waking hours and will require prolonged government support of economies the world over, US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must use this crisis as an opportunity to reinvest in the military capabilities and weapons systems necessary for deterring China.

As the pandemic deals a severe blow to the American and Japanese financial systems, both leaders will need to continue engaging in massive public spending to keep their economies afloat in 2020. The latest examples are the Phase 4 coronavirus relief stimulus package that was finalized in Washington and the stimulus package that was passed in Tokyo last week.

The current spending is just the latest in a series of government stimulus measures that Trump and Abe will need to put in place to prevent depressions in their countries. Part of this must include a multi-year commitment by both leaders to rearm in key areas where the US and Japan are currently deficient in deterring Chinese aggression.

Understandably, some will criticize robust defense spending during a pandemic as unnecessary, even immoral. Yet the financial and economic strains that the pandemic has wrought on the American and Japanese societies will require public spending to preserve jobs and create new employment opportunities. This military spending will be vital for investing in the areas needed to defend against a China that is increasingly determined to push the United States out of the Western Pacific and threaten Japan’s territorial integrity.

While Washington and Tokyo have high levels of public debt – a debt-to-GDP ratio of 106% in the US and 200% in Japan – both countries have the ability to engage in levels of government stimulus measures that will allow for the upgrading of their defenses. Unfortunately, this is not an option with other Pacific partners of Washington and Tokyo who lack the means to finance badly needed modernizations of their armed forces.

Timing is good for Trump and Abe, who are helped by current low interest rates, allowing for the spending to take place on manageable terms.  

Regarding immediate needs by the Pentagon, the US Navy lacks a sufficient number of vessels to address new areas of vulnerability resulting from China’s naval expansion, missile program advances and militarization of the South China Sea. The US Navy’s current goal of growing to 355 ships is coming along at too slow of a pace given the changing dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region, and it is likely that this number will be insufficient to meet upcoming challenges.

To address these urgent needs, the coming phases of coronavirus relief stimulus spending must include money for the US Navy to increase shipbuilding of sufficient numbers and quality to continue to allow for the United States to operate beyond the second island chain in the Pacific and to address regional coercion by China. An increased number of undersea warfare assets (submarines, etc) as well as frigates, unmanned vessels and ships with enhanced stealth technologies are all in need.

Sufficient money must also be appropriated to fill Washington’s current missile gap with Beijing. In recent years, China has built the world’s largest arsenal of short- and intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles designed to destroy aircraft carriers as well as US bases in Japan and Guam.



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