Testifying for the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, Admiral Philip Davidson, head of Indo-Pacific command, warned against an increasing "imbalance" in the region brought on by China’s rapid military advance.
"The military balance in the Indo-Pacific is becoming more unfavorable for the United States and our allies," Davidson said. "With this imbalance, we are accumulating risk that may embolden China to unilaterally change the status quo before our forces may be able to deliver an effective response."
China announced last week it will increase its defense budget by 6.8 percent in 2022, allocating $208.6 billion to their defense budget – a move that has concerned U.S. lawmakers and defense officials.
Davidson said that by 2025, China will be able to deploy three aircraft carriers, and he expressed concern surrounding the imminent threat China’s aggressive behavior poses for Taiwan.
"I cannot for the life of me understand some of the capabilities that they're putting in the field, unless it is an aggressive posture," he said, adding that he is concerned China would invade Taiwan within the next six years.
China has condemned international objections to its aggressive behavior against Taiwan, maintaining the island is its territory under its "One China Principle," though Taiwan and the U.S. view the nation as independent from mainland China.
"By exploiting the Taiwan question to exaggerate China's military threat, some people in the United States are actually looking for excuses to justify the increase of the U.S. military expenditure, expansion of its military power, and interfere in regional affairs," Chinese Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in response to Davidson’s testimony Wednesday. "The United States should abandon the Cold War zero-sum mentality, view China's development and national defense development objectively and rationally."
But Davidson pointed to Cold War-era concerns and warned that China is rapidly building its nuclear stockpiles, telling lawmakers that if China continues to go unchecked in its nuclear development they could surpass U.S. stockpiles by 2030.
"If they triple or quadruple their stockpile, [China] could possibly have nuclear overmatch against the US before the end of this decade. Is that correct?" Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asked the admiral. "If they were to quadruple their stockpile, yes, sir," Davidson said.
Davidson did not state how many nuclear weapons China or the U.S. currently have, but data from the Arms Control Association lists the U.S. as having 5,800 nuclear warheads as of August 2020, though only 3,800 of them are active, while China maintains 320 warheads.
Under the New Start Treaty that the U.S. has entered into with Russia, the U.S. is permitted to deploy 1,550 nuclear warheads on 800 strategic launchers at a time – a figure that would still exceed China’s quadrupled nuclear capabilities.
In response to China’s increased aggression in the South China Sea, including its development of artificial islands in disputed waters, the U.S. has increased its naval presence and launched freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) to keep international waters open.
Lawmakers have called on President Biden to increase the U.S. defense budget by three to five percent to account for inflation and keep up with the growing international demands.
Congress approved a defense spending budget of $694.6 billion for the 2021 fiscal year -- more than three times the budget China has set aside for next year’s military spending.