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April 20, 2021

Inhofe: U.S. Defense Budget Must Match Threats Posed by China's Military Build-Up

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), lead Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), spoke on the Senate floor today about China’s imposing military build-up and the need for the United States to increase investment in national defense to deter Chinese aggression. 


As Prepared for Delivery: 

The other week, President Biden released his “skinny budget” — which gave us a topline for defense of $715 billion. Make no mistake: This is a cut because it doesn’t keep up with inflation

It definitely doesn’t provide the three to five percent real growth we really need to take on the threats posed by our adversaries like China. 

When it comes to China, there are two big reasons we need to make sure our budget matches our strategy. Number one: China is spending more on their military than ever before. Number two: As a result, they’re getting more technologically advanced, and starting to sway the military balance of power in their favor.

The threat the Chinese military poses is not a distant threat. It’s not a 2035 or 2040 problem — it’s a problem we face now, and it only gets worse over time.

Admiral Davidson told the Armed Services Committee he expects the threat to manifest “this decade, in fact, in the next six years.”

So, today, I’d like to spend some time detailing what the Chinese military is doing. This is what we’re up against. This is why it’s so important that we get our defense budget right.

Let’s start with China’s military budget. Since 2000, Beijing’s spending on the People’s Liberation Army has gone up 450 percent.

Compare Beijing’s buildup with the rest of East Asia. At the same time, our core allies and partners in the region — that’s Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan — have had basically flat defense spending since 2000.

Or compare it with our own military spending. As I mentioned on the floor a couple weeks ago, at the same time China was adding $200 billion to their defense budget, we let ours shrink by $400 billion.

We’re certainly not provoking them with defense investment. And we’ve barely touched our force posture in the Western Pacific over the last two decades.

So, if anything, our lack of action — our lack of investment — is what is provoking China into thinking they can push around and threaten our friends in the region.

The Biden administration says they want to take allies and partners seriously. So, we should listen when they say they’re concerned about Chinese aggression.

Now, another progressive talking point is that the United States spends more on defense than the next 10 or 12 countries combined. That’s not true.

The reality is that any honest comparison of numbers shows that, combined, the Chinese and Russians almost certainly spend more than us in real terms.

China’s purchasing power is significantly greater than ours because they pay their workers next to nothing and have much lower material costs.

They also focus their defense spending on hard power — into planes, ships, missiles, and the like. Why? Because they don’t take care of their people.

At least a third of our military budget goes to supporting our people — our service members and their families, and our defense civilians.

That’s the right thing to do, but that’s just another reason why you can’t do a dollar-for-dollar comparison between US and Chinese defense spending. 

We need a better accounting. That’s why we adopted Senator Romney’s amendment in last year’s NDAA to get us a real comparison of spending. The Pentagon owes us that report by October.

All of this to say — we don’t have a good sense of China’s true defense spending. But we do know it’s going up.

General H.R. McMaster called it “the largest peacetime military buildup in history.” They’re not just expanding their military — they’ve modernized and professionalized it too.

Sec. Austin rightfully calls China our “pacing threat” – but here are a few of the ways they have been OUT pacing us because they are investing where we aren’t:

China has a 355-ship Navy. They achieved that last year, while we were just talking about it, and they are on track to get to 460 ships by 2030.

By comparison, our Navy is around 300 ships and is likely to stay there if our defense budget doesn’t grow.

In the air: Our combatant commanders assess that China will have more fifth generation aircraft than we do in the Pacific by 2025. Again, that gets worse if we have flat or declining budgets here.

China is expanding its arsenal too. The Pentagon’s missile experts tell us that China now has over 350 launchers for medium-range ballistic missiles, which are capable of hitting Guam and striking U.S. warships in the Pacific.

They’ve produced exact copies of our bases, ships, and aircraft to serve as targets and then practiced striking them – successfully, I might add.

They also have thousands of shorter-range missiles. Many of those are pointed right at Taiwan.

China is also doubling its nuclear stockpile and completing their own nuclear triad. The State Department and intelligence community are worried China might be conducting illegal nuclear testing, too.

So the Chinese military is charging ahead in just about every area.

But a lot of the people who don’t think China is a problem, they say that none of the Chinese weapons are as good as ours. That was true in 1990, it was true in 2000— but it's not true anymore.

The Office of Naval Intelligence said in 2015 that China’s latest surface warships were “comparable in many respects to the most modern Western ships."

China has deployed thousands of ground-based missiles. We’re still developing ours. They have fielded hypersonic strike weapons. We’re still in the research and development phase on those.

Just last month, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence assessed that at China’s rate of investment, they will soon dominate us in AI unless we do something different than we currently have planned.

And while the Chinese will spend almost $50 billion on tech infrastructure over the next few years, national security infrastructure is apparently the ONLY thing that President Biden doesn’t consider infrastructure.

So not only is China spending more on its military, but it has the tools to beat us.

Don’t take my word for it. The bipartisan NDS commission said, “The U.S. military...might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.”

Admiral Davidson told us the other week, “there is no guarantee that the United States would win a future conflict with China.”’

China’s military buildup isn’t just investment for the sake of it – they are already flexing their new muscle to challenge American allies and interests.

The PLA has deployed missiles, radars, stealth fighter jets, and bombers to islands in the South China Sea – claiming and militarizing islands in violation of international law.    

Just last year, the PLA fired anti-ship ballistic missiles into the South China Sea--clearly practicing to target U.S. Navy ships in the area.

Those are Chinese troops, walking on Woody Island in the South China Sea.

And the PLA has been expanding its network of strategic ports and bases around the world, from Djibouti, to Pakistan, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka.

Last year, China started going after the territory of India, which has resulted in dozens of dead Indian soldiers.

They’ve continually harassed Japan and Taiwan in the air and on the sea, their fishing fleets have terrorized small Pacific island nations. Over 200 Chinese boats are staking out a reef in the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines.

China just completed a new satellite constellation over Taiwan that allows for almost constant coverage of the island —the highest known frequency of satellite coverage in the world.

A few weeks ago, Taiwan reported the largest-ever Chinese incursion when 25 combat aircraft flew into its airspace. As the co-chair of the Taiwan caucus, this is of specific concern to me.

Some people have forgotten that aggression by nation states is not a thing of the past. People have forgotten how costly it is when deterrence fails.

That’s why I’m arguing for sustained, real growth in the defense budget. We know it’s necessary. And we know it’s attainable because the burden of defense spending on the economy today is half what it was at the height of the Cold War

The Biden administration is trying to tell us we can invest in economic and technological competition or in military competition. That’s a false choice.

The reality is, the Chinese are engaged in every dimension of this competition, especially the military dimension. And they’re not going to stop anytime soon.

Do we want to be there for our allies and partners? Or do we want our children and grandchildren to live in a world where our status of “leader of the free world” is in name only?

Do we want them to grow up in a world where China — the same country that is committing genocide against the Uighurs, silencing free speech, and jailing activists in Hong Kong – gets to set the rules of international engagement?

This isn’t a hypothetical question — that’s the question we’re answering each year when we set our military budget…and frankly, I am disappointed in how the current administration is answering the call.  

We’ve got to be prepared to take on China from all angles of national power. And this begins with adequate resourcing of our U.S. military with real growth in the defense budget.

If America chooses to sit on the sidelines in this competition and we ask our allies and partners to face China alone, the failure of military deterrence becomes more likely. That’s an outcome that no one here wants.

Click here to view Sen. Inhofe’s floor charts.

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