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Biden clears huge defence budget as race with China hots up

US Army games (Photo: US Military)

US President Joe Biden has signed the mammoth $777.7 billion military budget after the US Congress cleared the bill with an overwhelming majority. Comparatively, the previous defence budget signed by Donald Trump was $740 billion.

The US Senate had on December 15 cleared the bill with an 89-10 vote soon after the House of Representatives approved it with a 363-70 majority. The bill got overwhelming support from both parties as legislators cutting across party lines felt the need for the US to modernise its military due to increased rivalry and competition from China.

A statement by the White House said that Biden has "signed into law S. 1605, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022…” The law provides the annual budget for the Department of Defence, the Department of Energy's national security programmes and also for the Department of State. 

Biden underlined the fact that the defence budget includes a salary hike and "vital benefits" for defence personnel.

India Narrative spoke with Baladas Ghoshal, former Professor and Chair in South & South-east Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, about the requirements of such a large defence budget. Ghoshal says: "Urgency has dawned on US that they must do something to check China in the Indo-Pacific region. It is for this reason a greater defence allocation is needed".

Ghoshal adds that the US has to do many things to help its local friends like Japan and Taiwan build capacities. It cannot be present everywhere with its weapons. "The US needs a big defence budget not only for itself but also for building local capabilities so that China does not feel emboldened", adds Ghoshal.

In March this year, soon after Biden had taken over the reins from Trump, America's Interim National Security Guidance paper had identified China as "increasingly assertive". The 21-page document highlighted Biden’s national security strategy which emphasised that the country will build a stronger military presence in the Indo-Pacific.

The report called Beijing "the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system".

The enormous defence budget came in for criticism as well. Senator Bernie Sanders was one of the critics, along with Pramila Jayapal.

Relations between the US and China have soured drastically over the past few years with increasing trade disagreements, tensions over Taiwan, human rights issues and also due to Chinese threats in the Indo-Pacific region.

"Now Indonesia is in trouble as China has asked it not to drill oil even in its own waters. The area where Indonesia is drilling oil lies in Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) but Jakarta is under pressure to stop drilling in its own waters", says Ghoshal.

The Chinese military has clashed with Philippines boats near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea (SCS).

Beijing has threatened to take over Taiwan by force and has regularly violated the island nation's air space and maritime sovereignty by sending its military.

China is in dispute with Japan over the ownership of the Senkaku Islands which lie close to Taiwan. It recently sent its navy through the Tsugaru Strait, located between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, adding to Japan's unease.

Last week, US ally Japan too had given itself a record eighth defence budget of $47 billion for 2022, setting a new record. Once again, the budget was massive owing to the Chinese threat in the region. Japan plans to focus on developing new warfare technologies to counter an increasingly belligerent China.