With eye on China, U.S. Democrats want more resources for Indo-Pacific
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON(Reuters) – Washington must commit more diplomatic and security resources to the Indo-Pacific to push back against China as Beijing seeks to create a regional sphere of influence and become the world’s most influential power, U.S. Senate Democrats said on Thursday.
The majority Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued the report – seen by Reuters before its release – almost exactly a year after President Joe Biden’s administration released its strategy to modernize alliances in the region, strengthen emerging partnerships and invest in relationships.
The committee’s chairman, Senator Robert Menendez, is expected to discuss the report at a hearing on Thursday where senior diplomat Wendy Sherman will testify on China policy.
The Senate report says that vision is “commendable,” but gives recommendations as to how the U.S. government should sharpen the aims of the strategy and do more to ensure there are enough resources available to back up its efforts.
“Despite four successive administrations identifying Asia as a priority region for U.S. attention and assistance, none have made the necessary tradeoffs to ensure that sources are allocated in a manner commensurate with such prioritization,” the report said.
For example, the administration’s foreign assistance request for the region for the fiscal year ending in September 2023 was $1.7 billion, or only 7.7% of the overall foreign assistance budget, even though the Indo-Pacific region accounts for more than half of the world’s population, the report said.
The United States is trying to reassert itself in the region after a period of uncertainty about its commitment to Asia under then-U.S. President Donald Trump, and concerted efforts by rival China to boost its own influence.
The report said the Biden administration must significantly increase funding for diplomacy and development across the U.S. government and dedicate a larger portion of the Department of State operating budget and foreign assistance to the Indo-Pacific.
Its recommendations include working closely with Congress, including providing a detailed list of its plans for implementing the Indo-Pacific Strategy and advancing economic integration with countries in the region, including prioritizing a meaningful trade program with Taiwan.
A desire for a hard line in dealings with Beijing is one of the few truly bipartisan sentiments in the deeply divided U.S. Congress, with both Republicans and Biden’s Democrats calling for increased efforts to counteract China’s global influence.
Tensions between the two countries have been especially high of late, most recently as the United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon on Saturday for spying over U.S. territory.
The appearance of the Chinese balloon last week caused political outrage in Washington and prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a trip to Beijing that both countries had hoped would patch their frayed relations. Blinken would have arrived in Beijing on Sunday.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Don Durfee and Jonathan Oatis)