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This is the third in a series of reports on the House Armed Services Committee’s effort to augment the Pentagon’s 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review. Panel Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) launched the Committee Defense Review on Sept. 14. (DR, 09/15/05)

September 28, 2005At the CDR’s Threat Panel’s hearing to review current and future threats posed in the Asia region, the invited witnesses didn’t take long to address the elephant in the regional room—China.

“China is beating us at our own game,” said Kurt Campbell, of Center for Strategic and International Studies. In his view, the communist Asian giant has more credibility in some areas of Southeast Asia than the US “and that should concern us.”

China’s growing economic power—and evident push to enhance its strategic military strength—further complicates the complex relationship between the US and China. “Rich Chinese generals are Russia’s best friends right now,” said Peter Brookes, of the Heritage Foundation.

The best thing the US can do in the future is step up good relations with China’s neighbors on all sides was the consensus of the panel and its witnesses. Steven Cohen, with the Brookings Institution, said that while there is some cooperation between China and India—there is also “active competition” between the two most populous countries in Asia.

The Taiwan issue is critical, the Asian region experts agreed.

Brookes noted that Taiwan has not been as proactive in acquiring defense technology. According to Cohen, there is only a remote chance that the island could peaceably unify with the mainland. Campbell believes the Taiwan situation will be “the most challenging diplomatic and military situation over the next 20 years.” He maintained that being proactive on both the defense and diplomatic front is critical for US interests in Asia.

Campbell and Brookes offered the same prescription for maintaining the balance of power over the Taiwan issue: maintain a good relationship with South Korea. Campbell noted the US—South Korea partnership has not been as strong as it was in the past. 

Cohen voiced his two predominant areas of concern: Islamic extremism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He predicted that Afghanistan is headed towards stability if the current policy plays out, but he said that Islamic radicalism probably would get stronger in neighboring Pakistan. The situation in Pakistan after President Gen. Pervez Musharaff “will be problematic,” Cohen said, noting that radicalism has been kept in check so far.

Radical movements in western China, the Philippines, and Indonesia could alter the threat balance in Southeast Asia as well, noted Brookes, adding that many people don’t realize that Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation on the planet, and has been grappling with a resurgence of fundamentalism in recent years.

The analysts also agreed that Pakistan and its nuclear neighbor and arch-nemesis India need to keep a close watch on their nuclear arsenals, especially now that India appears to be expanding its military nuclear capability by equipping its submarines with nuclear-tipped missiles.

Campbell said that the US must guarantee freedom of navigation in the region, which requires continued support for American allies in South and Southeast Asia and sustaining military basing in the region.