Defense Secretary Ash Carter offered up some blunt talk on Beijing on Tuesday, saying the Pentagon needed to spend more money on hi-tech weapons to keep China in check — especially amid spiking tensions in the South China Sea.
Asked about U.S. warships sailing near reefs and islands claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea, Carter said there would no letup. “We have to react,” he said at an event unveiling next year’s proposed Defense spending plan.
“We’re going to fly and sail and operate where international law permits, period.”
He spoke days after a U.S. guided-missile destroyer, the USS Curtis Wilbur, passed near the disputed island of Triton in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, drawing strong objections from Beijing.
And the Pentagon chief also said ambitious plans for military spending on sophisticated weaponry for fiscal year 2017 were partly designed with China in mind.
“We’re making all these investments that you see in our defense budget that are specifically oriented towards checking the development of the Chinese military,” Carter said.
To stave off China’s increasing military power, including its ship killing missiles and electronic warfare, the $582.7 billion defense budget request calls for major spending on cyber security, more firepower for submarines, new robotic boats and underwater vessels as well as new missile interceptors to be installed on American warships.
In his speech, Carter said both Russia and China were “developing weapons and ways of war that seek to achieve their objectives rapidly, before — they hope — we can respond.” The military spending was aimed at placing a higher priority on the threats posed by both powers, he said.
Carter also said China had alienated countries in the region with its assertive moves in the South China Sea — where it has constructed a network of artificial islands with airstrips and deep harbors — but that it had bought Washington goodwill among old allies and new partners.
“They’re having the effect — and I don’t know when this will dawn on them — of causing widespread concern in the region, which makes others react, including others react by joining up with us,” he said in a question-and-answer session following his budget speech at the Economic Club of Washington.
As a result, Vietnam was “very eager” to bolster its maritime security cooperation with U.S. forces, along with traditional allies such as Australia, the Philippines and Japan, he said.
China was engaged in “self-isolating behavior” and the United States was not about to scale back its presence, he said.
For China “to disrupt the security environment where half of humanity lives and half of humanity’s economic behavior is, is not a good idea on their part,” Carter said. “But certainly for our part, we intend to continue our strong role there.”