5 Asia-related items to watch in the National Defense Authorization Act

The House and Senate have both advanced a National
Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021. Each includes notable
provisions on Asia and the Indo-Pacific. Some of these provisions align while
others will require significant negotiation before the final NDAA is passed,
likely later this year. Here are five Asia-related items to watch:

  1. Bipartisan support for US engagement in Asia: Republican and Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress
    continue to show bipartisan support for deepening US engagement in Asia. Given
    the increasingly partisan sniping on China from the presidential campaigns, this
    nearly unanimous congressional support for engagement in Asia is notable. So
    too are recent bipartisan bills on Hong Kong and Xinjiang, as well as major provisions
    in previous NDAAs, such as the Asia Reassurance Initiative.
  2. Different House and Senate initiatives on Asia: The House and Senate Armed Services Committees have both
    advanced major initiatives on Asia. Each would require that the Defense
    Department provide detailed resource allocations, plans, reports, and briefings
    on its defense strategy in Asia. The House’s Indo-Pacific Reassurance
    Initiative focuses largely on US cooperation with allies and partners, while
    the Senate’s Pacific Deterrence Initiative would provide more resources for deterring
    China. Observers should watch closely to see how these provisions will be merged
    and whether the final NDAA is accompanied by a substantial increase in
  3. Efforts to deepen alliances and partnerships: Both the House and Senate bills recognize the contributions of
    allies and partners to US national security. Each also calls for deepening
    cooperation with Taiwan. In addition, the Senate requests a yearly report on
    burden sharing contributions and supports co-development of anti-ship cruise
    missiles with Japan and deepening logistical cooperation with Australia. The
    House backs further defense cooperation with Vietnam and training in the
    Pacific with Singapore, Japan, Australia, and potentially India.
  4. Limits on redeployments from South Korea: Both the House and Senate have again included language in the NDAA
    that would constrain troop drawdowns from South Korea. The Trump administration
    will no doubt object to this language, which would require that the Secretary
    of Defense consult allies and provide either 90 or 180 days of warning before
    any move is made to draw forces in Korea below 28,500 personnel.
  5. Reporting requirements on China:
    A series of other provisions are included in either the House or Senate NDAA
    bills that address a range of concerning Communist Party behavior. The House
    calls for reports on China’s coercive tactics, military companies operating in
    the United States, defense industrial base, and emerging technology standards.
    The Senate would require studies on China’s recruiting of security-related
    researchers, theft of defense-sensitive intellectual property, and 5G networks
    in third countries, as well as placing limits on the percentages of certain printed
    circuit boards originating in China. Additional provisions on technology and
    intellectual property are also under consideration for inclusion in the final bill.

Comparison of House and Senate NDAA provisions on Asia

Topic House NDAA provisions Senate NDAA provisions
Strategy Section 1251: Establishes an Indo-Pacific Reassurance Initiative to support allies and partners in the region. Requires transparent budgeting and reporting about US defense spending in the region. Supports plans to spend $3.5 billion on the region in FY2021. Section 1251: Establishes a Pacific Deterrence Initiative to increase US capabilities in the region. Requires the Defense Department to detail spending on efforts in the Indo-Pacific. Authorizes $1.4 billion in spending in FY2021.
Alliances Section 1245: Recognizes US allies’ burden sharing efforts around the world. Section 1272: Requires a yearly report on burden sharing contributions by US allies.
Korea Section 1252: Limits removal of troops from South Korea below 28,500 until 180 days after the Secretary of Defense certifies that doing so will not significantly undermine the US or allied security. Section 1260: Limits reduced deployments to South Korea below 28,500 personnel until 90 days after the Secretary of Defense has consulted allies and certified that this reduction would not undermine security.
Japan Committee report requires a study on the desirability and feasibility of co-developing ground-based anti-ship missile with Japan. Section 1261: Supports co-development of a long-range ground-based anti-ship cruise missile by the United States and Japan.
Taiwan Sections 1257-1259: Supports Taiwan, including more personnel exchanges and official visits. Requires reports on supply chain and medical cooperation. Sections 1258-1259: Reinforces the need to support Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, including visits by medical ships to Taiwan if desired.
China Section 1255: Commissions a study of China’s defense industrial base Section 1263: Mandates a yearly report on efforts to prevent “fait accompli” tactics. Section 1273: Mandates a report on Huawei 5G systems in third countries. Section 808: Sets limits on printed circuit boards originating in China.
Training Section 1704: Commissions a report on joint training range exercises in the Pacific. Section 1257: Supports training on Guam with Singapore; requires a study on similar training with Japan, Australia, and India.
Cooperation Section 2853: Requires a master plan for supporting US forces in Australia. Sections 1252-254: Encourages deeper defense cooperation with Vietnam.
Logistics Section 1757: Authorizes a Movement Coordination Center Pacific. Section 2807: Establishes a military construction pilot program in Asia. Section 1256: Establishes a Movement Coordination Center Pacific to improve air-to-air refueling and other operations in the Pacific.
Technology Section 1254: Requires public reporting of Chinese military companies operating in the United States every two years. Section 232: Mandates an assessment of China’s efforts to recruit and retain researchers in security-related fields.
Research Section 1705: Requires a study on international standards for emerging technologies, including the impact of China’s research and development efforts. Section 891: Commissions reports on safeguarding defense-sensitive intellectual property from the People’s Republic of China.