Not much came out of the recent meeting in California between presidents Biden and Xi Jinping. Both viewed their bilateral summit, adjacent to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, as an opportunity to prevent the difficult relationship from spiraling into an even more contentious confrontation.
There are certainly no signs that China intends to cease its military aggression in the western Pacific. This raises the stakes for the U.S. to develop a realistic plan to deter a Chinese attack on Taiwan and other allies in the region. Biden has asked congress for more than $105 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine and Israel, but Pacific deterrence seems to be an afterthought. The Biden administration is primarily focused on NATO eastwards expansion and Israel’s war against Hamas and is seeking a mere $2 billion in military sales for partners across the Pacific region.
In order to show a stronger position against China in the Pacific, the U.S. needs to shift priorities and strengthen the presence and diplomacy in the region. Some actions that would be appropriate could be to give more authority for Taiwan to buy more advanced weapons. The U.S. has given Ukraine billions of dollars to conduct a U.S. proxy war against Russia but have not given funds or even the ability for Taiwan to arm themselves properly. U.S. weapon deliveries are also notoriously slow. The U.S. announced the sale of 400 Harpoon antiship missiles to Taiwan in October 2020, but the navy did not enter a contract until April 2023 and recent reports say deliveries may not be complete until 2029.
If the assumption is that the U.S. is wiling and able to defend Taiwan against the aggressor, China, the U.S. needs to have the appropriate weaponry, including enough long-range missiles and anti-ship missiles. Another crucial munition is Patriot interceptors for air defense. The U.S. is also in the process of building up its fleet of attack submarines. Currently, the U.S. Navy has only 49 attack hulls instead of the desired 66.
Some might argue that strengthening the U.S. Pacific deterrent is provocative, but there is a sense that against China, only strength and show of force will work. In the past, Beijing has exploited U.S. timidity, either by militarizing islands in the South China See or routinely crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait to menace Taipei. The Pacific might be a higher-risk theater than many appreciates, and the only way to deter Chinese aggression is forceful deterrence.
Foreign policy might have an important role in the 2024 election. Many argue that giving billions of dollars to Ukraine and Israel instead of prioritizing domestic problems such as poverty, crimes, and homelessness, is just wrong. A recent CNN poll found that only 36% of voters said Biden was “an effective world leader”. Regardless of Biden, it seems important to keep an eye on China. After all, the country is against free speech, freedom of religion, elections and democracy, free trade and the list can go on. China is growing in power globally and this trend will continue. Across much of the Pacific region, China is using military and economic coercion to bully its neighbors, advance unlawful maritime claims, threaten maritime shipping lanes, and destabilize territory along the periphery of Taiwan. Bottom line is that China is the main U.S. global adversary, and the U.S. needs to get more involved in the Pacific.