House GOP warns of China's 'rapid expansion' in Indo-Pacific as Biden admin lays out vision for the region

GOP lawmakers are warning that if China is 'left unchecked,' the US will be unprepared to respond to its rapid militarization in Indo-Pacific

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EXCLUSIVE: House Republicans are warning that China’s "rapid expansion and militarization" of the Indo-Pacific is a "significant threat" to the United States and allies around the globe, while the Biden administration maintains it has made its concerns "clear" about Beijing's "shadowy, unspecified deals" in the region. 

Republican Rep. Lance Gooden led Republican colleagues Nancy Mace, Ken Buck, Lisa McClain and Louie Gohmert in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, which was obtained by Fox News. It warned that if China is "left unchecked," the U.S. and allies "will be unprepared and unable to respond to China’s presence in the region."

"China’s rapid expansion and militarization of the Indo-Pacific region is a significant threat to the United States and our allies across the globe," Gooden and his colleagues wrote. 

They noted that, in recent years, China "has used coercion and intimidation to demand policy changes, assert illegal maritime claims, and threaten countries that work with the United States or our allies.

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Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, attends a House Financial Services Committee organizational meeting in Rayburn Building Jan. 30, 2019. 

Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, attends a House Financial Services Committee organizational meeting in Rayburn Building Jan. 30, 2019.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

"Beijing reaffirmed its intent to maintain high levels of defense spending to transform the People’s Liberation Army into a powerful force operating in and beyond the Indo-Pacific region," they wrote. "If left unchecked, the United States and our allies will be unprepared and unable to respond to China’s presence in the region."

One example Gooden pointed to was Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visiting several Indo-Pacific countries in recent weeks to "expand China’s military presence in the region" — specifically the Solomon Islands, which recently signed a security agreement with China allowing the PRC to "send military personnel and Chinese warships to utilize their ports for ‘logistical replenishment.’" 

"This agreement establishes a concerning precedent and could begin a domino effect destabilizing the entire region," Gooden wrote.

Gooden and Republicans demanded Blinken "undertake all necessary measures to strengthen existing and foster new relationships in the strategic Indo-Pacific region to counter China’s growing influence."

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Gooden pointed to the U.S. treaty with the Republic of Kiribati, which has been in place since 1979, and prohibits Kiribati from "making facilities for military purposes available to third parties except with the agreement of the United States."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks June 1, 2022, during a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the State Department in Washington, D.C.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks June 1, 2022, during a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the State Department in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

"Despite this treaty, the PRC has previously had a military operation under the guise of a space tracking station on Kiribati’s South Tarawa Island," they wrote. "Due to China’s growing influence in the region, there are concerns that this facility may reopen in direct violation of our agreement with the Republic of Kiribati."

The Republican lawmakers requested that the State Department review "existing agreements and treaties in the Indo-Pacific region and prepare to utilize any existing authorities or privileges we may have in the region to counter China."

They also urged the State Department to "reiterate to our regional partners that agreements with China will undermine our relationship and impact our ability to provide foreign and military aid in the region." 

"Finally, we request you begin negotiations with the Republic of Kiribati regarding creating a military outpost on the island to aid with logistical replenishments of the Pacific Fleet and counter the expansion of China’s influence in the region," they wrote. They also requested "strategic clarity by making it clear to our allies and the world that the United States will honor our commitments to our allies in the Indo-Pacific region and counter China’s aggression and expansion."

A Gooden aide pointed to the Kiribati treaty and said the United States "could potentially claim sovereign control over Kiribati if it detects moves by China to establish a base in the region."

"China’s military expansion threatens to destabilize the Pacific region and poses a significant threat to both the United States and our allies," Gooden told Fox News. "The Biden Administration cannot continue their policy of appeasement and must take clear and decisive action to counter China now before an escalation or conflict occurs."

A State Department spokesperson told Fox News Thursday that the department "appreciate(s) the bicameral and bipartisan support from Congress for deeper engagement in the Indo-Pacific." 

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech via video link to the opening ceremony of the Bo'ao Forum For Asia in Bo'ao in southern China's Hainan Province April 21, 2022.

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech via video link to the opening ceremony of the Bo'ao Forum For Asia in Bo'ao in southern China's Hainan Province April 21, 2022. (Huang Jingwen/Xinhua via AP)

"As we have said before, we must match action with our policies," the spokesperson told Fox News. "The president has urged Congress to pass the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which would authorize over $3.25 billion in diplomatic and foreign assistance resources for the Indo-Pacific." 

The State Department spokesperson said the Biden administration envisions an Indo-Pacific that is "open, connected, prosperous, resilient and secure — and we are ready to work together with each nation to achieve it." 

According to the State Department, in the last year, the U.S. has modernized alliances, strengthened partnerships and forged "innovative links among them to meet urgent challenges, from competition with the People's Republic of China to climate change to the pandemic." 

"These accomplishments form the basis of the administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy," the spokesperson said, adding that the strategy "outlines President Biden’s vision to more firmly anchor the United States in the Indo-Pacific and strengthen the region in the process." 

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, sits down with representatives of teachers and students at a symposium and delivers a speech during a visit to Renmin University of China in Beijing April 25, 2022. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, sits down with representatives of teachers and students at a symposium and delivers a speech during a visit to Renmin University of China in Beijing April 25, 2022.  (Ju Peng/Xinhua via Getty Images)

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The Biden administration is continuing to broaden engagement in the region, the spokesperson said, referring to President Biden's recent trip to Japan and Blinken's trip to the Pacific Islands. 

"As we have said, each nation will make its own sovereign decisions," the spokesperson told Fox News. "We, along with allies and partners, including those in the region, have made our concerns clear about China’s shadowy, unspecified deals with little regional consultation." 

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The administration welcomes "contributions by the PRC to regional development, so long as it adheres to high standards, including in areas such as transparency, the rule of law, sustainable financing and respect for the autonomy of development aid recipients." 

"However, as the PRC’s involvement in the region has grown, we have seen a range of increasingly problematic behavior, including its assertion of unlawful maritime claims and the ongoing militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea; predatory economic activities, including illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; investments that undermine good governance and promote corruption; and human rights abuses," the spokesperson continued.