Austin released the directive after receiving a classified document from a Chinese task force he set up in February to examine challenges posed to the United States by Beijing.
“The efforts I am leading today will enhance the department’s ability to revitalize our network of allies and partners, strengthen deterrence and accelerate the development of new operational concepts, emerging capabilities, future posture of force. and a modernized civilian and military workforce, ”said Austin. in a report.
The specific steps of Austin’s plan are under wraps, but in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, the Defense Secretary said the Defense Department’s proposed $ 715 billion budget focuses on “Match the pace challenge that we see clearly from the People’s Republic of China.” it therefore includes “more than $ 5 billion for the Pacific defense initiative” in 2022.
Overall, the five-year initiative aims to provide billions to modernize US forces in the region, including the Aegis Ashore missile defense system for Guam; new radar defenses for Hawaii; more intelligence and reconnaissance resources; more ammunition; more Navy, Air Force and Navy troops in the region; and more training and drills with allies and partners.
Asked by Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Arkansas, whether the Defense Department is prioritizing China or being distracted by other issues such as climate change, Austin was adamant.
“The most significant military threat that we are focusing on – and you have heard me say this probably 100 times senator – is China,” Austin said.
U.S. military commanders say China is building an increasingly offensive army and expanding its regional footprint, as it steps up efforts to supplant U.S. military might in Asia.
Taiwan played an important role in Thursday’s hearing, Senator Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, asking the top US military leader in uniform if US forces can defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion by the People’s Army of liberation to take control of the island.
“I can assure you that we have the capabilities if political decisions are made in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in response to the senator.
Hawley is a staunch supporter of Taiwan and last year introduced the Taiwan Defense Law, a bill that would require Washington to maintain its ability to defeat a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The bill died without receiving a vote.
Although the Taiwan Relations Act – US law since 1979 – is not clear on whether the US will intervene militarily if China attacks the island, it does that Washington “maintain the ability of the United States to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion that would endanger the security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan”, as well as to provide in Taipei defensive weapons.
The ability of the US military to defend Taiwan has come under increasing scrutiny as China has built and modernized its military, including adding platforms and weapons that US military leaders have described as aggressive in nature.
Milley told senators on Thursday that taking Taiwan by force would not be an easy task for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
“If you are talking about a military invasion of Taiwan, crossing the Strait, the Taiwan Strait with a large military force to seize an island the size of Taiwan against the military they have and the population they have. they have, it’s an extraordinary complex and difficult operation if, against an unopposed force, it’s a very difficult thing to do, ”Milley said.
But Hawley pushed the general on whether the United States could militarily block an invasion of Taiwan if Taipei couldn’t resist on its own.
“Yes,” Milley replied.
With Taiwan at the center of Thursday’s hearing, a report by a leading Washington think-tank earlier in the week warned that the United States will need to take a broader approach to counter the growing influence of the United States. China in Asia and the world.
“As competition intensifies, US military planners may need to expand the portfolio of possible contingencies involving China beyond traditional hot spots like Taiwan,” said the report, titled “The Quest for China for world primacy “, researchers at RAND Corp.
“China’s success in establishing itself as the main arbiter in Middle East affairs, as the main sponsor of Africa’s economic development and as a major partner in Latin America could lead to a serious weakening of the United States’ strategic position as a world leader. and undermine its position in the Indo-Pacific theater as well, ”the report said.
But the RAND report also says the United States retains strong advantages that it should develop, including supporting its allies and partners.
“The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) remains an unattractive partner for many countries, especially in Asia,” the report said.
“And the (Chinese) military’s lack of power projection capabilities limits its ability to deliver the public security goods that have contributed to the success of US world leadership,” he said.
And it goes back to the recommendations of the Austin task force on China.
“The most notable effort for the military will probably be the outreach of allies and partners. Military-to-military relations are part of that outreach and there will be more exercises with allies and partners,” a report said. Ministry of Defense on the working group. .