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Rep. Thornberry warns ‘tensions with China are on the uptick’ and US should be ‘on guard’

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, then-Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), questions senior military leaders during a HASC hearing on Capitol Hill, March 7, 2017. (DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)
May 07, 2020

House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry on Thursday underscored the threat from China and the need to bolster the U.S. military, especially during the vulnerabilities posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a call with reporters, Thornberry said, “Tensions with China are on the uptick. Security of our industrial base is as important now as it has ever been.”

“There is a concern that China with its money and its influence could try to take advantage of the stresses on our industrial base at this time,” Thornberry continued. “We have to be on our guard about investments and all sorts of things where China may seek to take advantage of this situation.”

Thornberry said the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will continue on the U.S. trajectory of strategic efforts to counter China and reduce U.S. dependence on China, which are a greater focus for lawmakers this year.

“The world is not going to be any safer on the other side of COVID,” Thornberry cautioned while stressing the importance of the necessary funding to ensure the U.S. military won’t be weakened by the pandemic.

Last month, Thornberry released a $6 billion Indo-Pacific deterrence proposal aimed at increasing U.S. military presence in what the U.S. considers a “priority theater.” He argued that the U.S. has not put as much money into the region as it has Europe, despite being a top priority.

In 2018, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis released a National Defense Strategy which identified China, along with Russia, as a top threat to the U.S. The strategy followed Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy which came to the same conclusion. Thornberry said on Thursday that the DOD needs to be truly guided by these strategies.

“If that strategy is going to be more than slick glossy paper, then you need to really live it and put your money where your strategy is,” he said.

“I think they have made significant strides in recent years to do that, including this year,” he noted.

One of those strides is the U.S. military’s ban of Chinese cell phones, such as those from Huawei. President Trump had also banned Huawei sales from U.S. markets.

Thornberry cautioned that Huawei’s equipment poses a real threat to national security, as not enough is known about its security vulnerabilities. The U.K. has reasoned they can isolate networks using Huawei routers and keep the rest of the network secure, but Thornberry said U.S. technical experts have doubts about that.

“We need to try to understand the vulnerabilities,” Thornberry said. “The United States has tried to encourage the Brits and other allies not to buy Huawei [hardware].”

Thornberry encouraged collaboration on alternatives, but said it has been challenging because there are currently a lack of alternatives to Huawei’s products, and they often can’t compete with Huawei’s pricing.

It’s a “deliberate strategy by China to infiltrate their equipment throughout the world’s telecommunications networks,” Thornberry said.