Jul 19, 2023, 6:48pm EDT

War with China is not “inevitable,” top Pentagon official will testify

REUTERS/Florence Lo

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A top Pentagon official will tell a House panel on Thursday that conflict between the U.S. and China is “neither imminent nor inevitable” and that the Biden administration is doing “more than ever” to deter Beijing’s aggression in Asia.

The People’s Republic of China “presents the most comprehensive and serious challenge to U.S. national security because of the PRC’s increasingly coercive efforts to refashion the Indo-Pacific region and the international system to suit its authoritarian preferences,” Ely Ratner, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs will tell the House select committee on China, according to a copy of his testimony shared with Semafor.

But, Ratner will say, “U.S. deterrence is real and strong, and the Department is doing more than ever to keep it that way.”

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Ratner and other administration witnesses from the State and Commerce Departments will appear at the hearing on Biden’s policies toward China at a time the administration is trying to ease tensions with the country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry have all traveled to Beijing in recent weeks. Kerry concluded meetings Wednesday without any new agreements to address global warming.

But Ratner will acknowledge that its efforts to restore military-to-military communications with China, which could potentially help prevent an accidental conflict from breaking out between the countries, have been largely unsuccessful, despite overtures from the Pentagon. China rebuffed a U.S. request for a meeting between the two countries’ defense chiefs at a conference in Singapore last month over Trump-era sanctions on China’s new defense minister that the Biden administration has kept in place.


“Unfortunately, the PLA has remained largely unwilling to engage in substantive dialogue,” Ratner will say, referring to the People’s Liberation Army.

The Biden administration witnesses are likely to face criticism from Republicans during the hearing, including the panel’s chairman Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who has accused the administration of pursuing “zombie engagement” by holding talks with top Chinese officials. On a call with reporters, Gallagher suggested the engagement strategy had failed, pointing to recent examples of Chinese aggression towards the U.S. like the hack of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s unclassified email and a ban on chips made by U.S. firm Micron.

“I want to give the administration a chance to respond to my criticism,” Gallagher said.

The Wisconsin Republican also said he wants to ensure the government is acting with enough urgency to address the threat posed by China, adding that he believes there is only a “narrow window” for the U.S. to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

In his testimony, Ratner will tout tighter defense ties between the U.S. and the Philippines, a new deal for India to produce jet engines with U.S. technology, and the trilateral nuclear-powered submarine pact between the U.S., Australia, and the U.K.

The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., told Semafor that he wanted to ask administration officials about the recent email hack, which Microsoft has attributed to China (the White House has not yet formally blamed China but said it has no reason to doubt Microsoft’s findings).

“I am going to be exploring what’s at the heart of why we are seeing Chinese aggression, especially military aggression, against its neighbors and friends, and how do you curb that aggression,” Krishnamoorthi said in an interview.