A U.S. congressional panel scrutinizing China’s security and economic policies has urged authorities to determine whether Washington can withstand possible Chinese attacks on American bases in Asia.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) also wants the administration to work with U.S. trading partners to check “China’s manipulation of its currency,” a key issue in the economic relationship between the two powers.
They were among 45 recommendations by the 12-member bipartisan panel in its 2010 annual report to Congress.
The commission warned that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) currently has missile capability to attack and “force the temporary closure” of five of the six main U.S. air bases in East Asia.
In addition, improvements to the PLA Air Force’s bomber fleet soon could allow it to target Guam, where the sixth U.S. Air Force base, Anderson, is located.
The other U.S. air bases include Osan and Kunsan in South Korea, Misawa and Yokota in Japan, and Kadena in Okinawa.
“As a result of China’s improved offensive air and missile capabilities, the Chinese military has strengthened its capacity to threaten U.S. forces and bases in the region,” the commission’s vice-chairman Carolyn Bartholomew told a news conference.
Aircraft carriers threatened
Aside from the threat to the Asian bases, she said, China’s “missile strikes could destroy U.S. air defenses, runways, parked aircraft, and fuel and maintenance facilities.”
“Complicating this scenario is the future deployment of China’s antiship ballistic missile, which could hold U.S. aircraft carriers at bay outside their normal operating range,” she warned.
The commission recommended that Congress require the Pentagon to annually report on the adequacy of the U.S. military’s capacity to withstand such possible Chinese assault on the regional bases, as well as a list of concrete steps required to strengthen the bases’ capacity to thwart such strikes.
It also asked Congress to direct the Pentagon to address the issue of Taiwan’s “deteriorating” air defense capabilities in light of China’s growing military air and missile capabilities and the effect the situation could have on U.S. forces in the event of U.S. involvement in a cross-Strait scenario.
The U.S. is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the necessary means to defend itself if attacked.
The commission also recommended that the U.S. exploit recently increased engagement with Southeast Asian nations seeking to balance Chinese influence in the region, including Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea and its construction of controversial dams along the Mekong River.
It added that China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea “constitutes a potential threat to U.S. interests, including the freedom of navigation.”
The commission also warned of Chinese government-linked “penetration” of American computer systems and networks as well as those of foreign entities and governments.
“The massive scale and the extensive intelligence and reconnaissance components of recent high-profile, China-based computer exploitations suggest that there continues to be some level of state support for these activities,” Bartholomew said.
Internet traffic redirected
In April, the commission said, nearly 15 percent of the world’s Internet traffic was redirected through Chinese servers for a total of 18 minutes, which it said may have allowed the surveillance of several sensitive U.S. federal and military websites or a compromise of secure encrypted sessions.
While it was unclear whether the redirection was planned, it highlighted concerns that malicious actors in China “might seek intentionally to leverage these abilities to assert some level of control over the Internet, even for a brief period.”
The commission called for the administration to periodically issue a report detailing the volume and seriousness of hacker attacks targeting U.S. federal agencies.
The report, it said, should include information on the origin of the malicious activity and planned measures to mitigate and prevent future exploitations and attacks.
On the issue over the Chinese currency, which U.S. officials have repeatedly said remains undervalued by Beijing for trade gains, the commission wants the administration to work with U.S. trading partners “to bring to bear on China the enforcement provisions of all relevant international institutions.”
“China’s manipulation of its currency remains one of the most intransigent issues in the U.S.-China trade relationship,” the commission said, adding that the yuan is undervalued by between 20 and 40 percent.
“China strictly controls and undervalues its currency. The United States and Chinese citizens would no doubt welcome a more free market approach by the Chinese government,” said commission chairman Dan Slane.
The commission’s recommendation followed a decision by the U.S. authorities last month to delay a report to Congress on whether China or any other country is manipulating its currency for an unfair trade advantage. The U.S. Treasury report originally was due October 15.
Reported in Washington by Joshua Lipes.