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DOD Asia Policy Nominee Encourages Close Watch on China

By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2014 – The man nominated to be the Defense Department’s top policy official for the Asia-Pacific region said today he believes the United States must do more than just watch and analyze China’s military, and he called for encouraging Taiwan to develop a defense force capable of thwarting Beijing’s efforts to coerce its rival.

“We are paying particular attention to Chinese investments in technology development, as well as what they are fielding,” David Shear said in written answers to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is considering his nomination to be assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs, adding that it’s also necessary to understand what is shaping those investments.

He pointed to work by the Defense Department’s Minerva Initiative, designed to help assess future security challenges, which he said can help defense officials understand the social, cultural and historical factors driving China’s strategic priorities.

While Shear said Washington welcomes the rise of a peaceful China, the growth of the Chinese military remains a concern, especially Beijing’s investments in technology. He described China’s increasing defense spending as part of a long-term military modernization program lacking transparency but aimed at winning high-intensity, short-duration regional conflicts, primarily focused on Taiwan.

His answers were largely echoed by Robert Work, nominated to be deputy secretary of defense, who appeared at the same confirmation hearing.

Shear described Sino-U.S. relations as having elements of both competition and cooperation, saying he believes the United States should remain the pre-eminent military power in the Asia-Pacific -- two years after the United States announced a military rebalance to the region. But getting the relationship with China right “will be critical to the future of U.S. national security, as well as international security, for decades to come,” he said.

Relations between Washington and Beijing are often affected by U.S. ties to Taiwan, and if confirmed, Shear said, he would urge Taiwan to increase its defense budget to 3 percent of its gross domestic product, while at the same time the United States would continue providing Taiwan with what the island needs to maintain its defense, telling the committee “our priority should be to assist Taiwan in implementing an asymmetric and innovative defense strategy to deter aggression from China.” Doing so, he said, would be consistent with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, in which the United States committed to Taiwan’s self-defense capability.

In addition, Shear said the United States will continue to assert its right to conduct military operations in the East China Sea in an area where China has unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone in response to an ongoing dispute with Japan over contested islands.

“If confirmed, I would support the DOD position that China’s announced ADIZ will not change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.”

On North Korea, Shear said leader Kim Jong Un remains unpredictable, pointing out last year’s execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek, a key figure who was considered a mentor to the young leader, in what was widely reported as a power struggle over the control of exports.

Work, in his answers to committee questions, said “my understanding is that Kim Jong Un remains in full control and is consolidating his power.” A strong possibility exists of more North Korean provocations, he added, as Pyongyang attempts to coerce the United States back into negotiations on its own terms.

(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @SimeoneAFPS)

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