U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States is developing military capabilities to counter recent improvements in China's ability to threaten U.S. forces in the Pacific. Mr. gates is the only member of former-President Bush's cabinet asked to stay on under President Obama.
In written testimony delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates said as China modernizes its military, he is most concerned about advances in its ability to attack ships, submarines and aircraft, and its advances in ballistic missile technology, anti-satellite weapons and cyber warfare. He said those advances "could threaten America's primary means of projecting power" and helping defend its allies in the Pacific.
Countering China's New Capabilities
At the hearing, answering a question from Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka, Secretary Gates spoke about what the Defense Department is doing to counter the new Chinese capabilities.
"We have a number of programs underway, in development, that are intended to counter some of the Chinese technological advances that have the potential to put our carriers at risk. And I think we're making good progress on those. And I think we have capability in place to be able to deal with any foreseeable Chinese threat for some time to come," he said.
'Hot Line' to Beijing
Secretary Gates also noted what he called "some improvements in the U.S.-Chinese security relationship." He mentioned the beginning of a formal strategic dialogue, the establishment of a direct telephone link, or 'Hot Line,' with his Chinese counterpart and continuing military exchanges. He said all that will help leaders on both sides "understand each other's intentions and avoid potentially dangerous miscalculations."
Gates said even with ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has "ample and untapped combat power" in its Navy and Air Force to "defeat any adversary that committed an act of aggression." He called the risk of any such move by China, or by North Korea or any other country, something that is "manageable" but "cannot be ignored."
The Taiwan factor
China says its military modernization program is part of its "Peaceful Rise" strategy, and U.S. officials and military commanders note that increased capabilities do not necessarily lead to increased threats. Still, with the United States committed to help Taiwan defend against any Chinese attack, and also to help defend Japan and South Korea, U.S. officials say they need to keep pace with technological advances by China's military.