A top lawmaker is urging the Pentagon to review its military engagement policy with China amid concerns that cooperation has provided more benefits to Beijing and failed to convince the Chinese military to cease aggressive actions in the Asia-Pacific.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R., Va.), leader of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, sent a letter on Wednesday to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work. Forbes requested a "review of the [Defense] Department’s current mil-mil engagement policy with China, ideally as part of a larger [Pentagon] review of U.S security objectives in the region."
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"I believe that the Department currently lacks the thorough guidance and oversight mechanisms necessary to maintain a consistent mil-mil policy that best serves U.S. national security objectives over the ‘long-haul’ of the emerging U.S.-China peacetime competition," he wrote.
Forbes said he could point to "multiple examples" where various defense officials, including Hagel’s office and the Pacific Command commander, "were pursuing multiple, divergent mil-mil engagement objectives."
Several concerns have been raised about U.S.-China military cooperation. In May, Chinese Gen. Fang Fenghui visited the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego—a potential violation of provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2000. The law forbids military exchanges with China in areas such as "force projection operations," but the Pentagon said at the time that it did not view the visit as a breach of the act.
A retired Chinese admiral later told a state news agency that Gen. Fang acquired valuable information about the Reagan’s capabilities.
"While our engagements demonstrate our military capabilities to China, enhancing our deterrent to a degree, I am concerned that they also have the potential to decrease China’s uncertainty about possible responses to their actions, which may only cause China to conclude that it can take more risks," Forbes wrote in his letter.
Additionally, China conducted flight tests last month of its new J-31 stealth fighter jet, an aircraft that allegedly contains technology stolen from the U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Chinese military is suspected of obtaining the F-35 secrets through cyber attacks on a Lockheed Martin subcontractor. While the tests occurred, President Barack Obama was pressing Chinese leaders at an Asian economic summit to reduce incidences of cyber theft.
Obama also reached military agreements at the summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping that aimed to avoid future conflicts in Asia.
Forbes said in his letter that "there is no indication that more engagement has helped to shape Beijing's actions in a positive direction consistent with U.S. objectives."
"To the contrary, as we have increased our mil-mil engagement over the past two years, China’s actions have only turned more coercive," he said. "As our military chiefs have increased their relationships with their counterparts (individuals who can, at any time, order Chinese vessels and aircraft to stand down from taking provocative actions), reckless incidents at sea and in the air have continued to occur and China has resorted to new forms of coercion against its neighbors in the East and South China Seas."
China has employed increasingly aggressive actions to claim disputed territory in the Asia-Pacific region, such as erecting structures on islands claimed by the Philippines. The Chinese military has also engaged in recent encounters with U.S. planes and ships that the Pentagon has described as "dangerous." A Chinese fighter jet in August came within 20 feet of a U.S. anti-submarine warfare aircraft in international airspace, and a Chinese tank landing ship almost forced a collision with the USS Cowpens in December in the South China Sea.
The incidents came as China continues a years-long buildup in its conventional, nuclear, and cyber warfare capabilities. China also recently conducted a third flight test for its new hypersonic strike vehicle that is part of Beijing’s program to penetrate U.S. strategic missile defenses.
Forbes said that while he does "not subscribe to an alarmist school about the emergence of a strong [People’s Republic of China] … I do believe China has the potential to pose the greatest challenge to the liberal-international order since the end of the Cold War."
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment about the letter and said a response would be sent directly to Forbes, not the press.