US Defense Bill on China’s Maritime Claims

American President Joe Biden signed into law an $886 billion defense bill, which includes $16 billion to deter China’s expansive maritime claims and approves exemptions for Australia and The UK plans to purchase American defense technology without obtaining licenses.

The 2024 National Defense Authorization Act was passed by the Senate and House, after a compromise removed supplemental funding for Ukraine and contentious abortion and transgender provisions. The bill provides the critical authorities needed to build the military required to deter future conflicts while supporting service members and their spouses and families.

Maritime deterrence is included in the bill, with $14.7 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, well above the $9.1 billion requested by the Pentagon. The project aims to enhance U.S. defenses in Hawaii and Guam, enhancing deterrence against China. Increased PDI spending will focus on Guam defense, improved Indo-Pacific forces networking, and accelerated ground troop posture.

A further $1.3 billion is earmarked specifically for the Indo-Pacific Campaigning Initiative, which would fund increased frequency and scale of exercises, freedom of navigation operations, and partner engagements as China ramps up its claims of sovereignty. The 2024 bill authorizes the largest pay boost to military personnel in two decades, with a 5.2% overall bump, and increases the basic allowance for troops and housing subsidies. The bill also approves the sale of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia and exemptions for Australian and British firms from the need to seek licenses to buy U.S. defense technology.

The provisions, known as “Pillar 1” and “Pillar 2” of the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have been controversial. Republicans question the ability of shipyards to supply Australia with submarines by the 2030s amid massive building backlogs. Democrats worry that exempting Australian businesses from the need to seek licenses could open up an avenue for Chinese espionage to procure sensitive U.S. technology.

The US passed bipartisan provisions for AUKUS, allowing licensing exemptions based on comparable export restrictions in Australia and the UK. This approval, according to Illinois Democrat Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, would aid US counter-China maritime claims. The AUKUS security pact, passed by Australia, the UK, and the US, aims to transform the ability of the three countries to effectively deter, innovate, and operate together. Australia’s ambassador to Washington, Kevin Rudd, foresees a “seamless” defense industry across AUKUS member states in the coming decades.

The bill establishes a military training program for Taiwan and funds the Biden administration’s “Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative” to counter China’s maritime sovereignty claims.The US will equip allies across Asia and the Pacific with high-grade commercial satellite imagery to gain more visibility into their littorals. Rep. Mike Gallagher, chairman of the House Select Committee on China, said the bill was focused on the biggest threats facing the US military, emphasizing the need to ensure the military has the resources to deter and win such conflicts.

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