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McCain proposes $7.5 billion of new U.S. military funding for Asia-Pacific

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee, John McCain, has proposed $7.5 billion of new military funding for U.S. forces and their allies in the Asia-Pacific, where tensions have been rising over China’s territorial ambitions.

Committee chairman U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) delivers an opening statement as retired U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis sits before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to serve as defense secretary in Washington, U.S. January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The funds, $1.5 billion a year for five years to 2022, could be used to boost U.S. munitions stocks in the region, build new military infrastructure, such as runways, and to help allies and partner countries increase their capabilities, an aide to McCain and a U.S. military official said.

The funding proposal was contained in a White Paper issued by McCain last week entitled “Restoring American Power.” His committee is expected to discuss it at a budget hearing on Tuesday.

“Senator McCain believes the United States must sustain its enduring commitment to the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region,” a spokesman for McCain, Dustin Walker, said.

“The Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative ... would ... make U.S. regional posture more forward-learning, flexible, resilient, and formidable,” he said. “These funds would boost operational military construction, increase munitions procurement, enhance capacity building with allies and partners, and expand military exercises and other training activities.”

An official in the administration of new U.S. President Donald Trump, who took office on Friday, said he believed McCain’s proposal was “very much in general alignment with the administration’s goals in the region.”

Trump has vowed to take a tougher line with China and to build up the U.S. military, although it is unclear whether he will succeed in lifting caps on defense spending that have been part of “sequestration” legislation.

A U.S. military official, who did not want to be identified, said the funds could go to construct new military runways in countries such as Australia and the Philippines and to make up a shortfall of munitions that the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, complained of last year.

“There’s a shortfall in the total number of munitions and also a quality gap,” the official said, adding that more sophisticated missiles were needed in the region to counter China’s “anti-access, area-denial” strategy.

On Monday, the new U.S. administration raised the prospect of worsening tensions with China when it vowed to prevent Beijing from taking over territory in international waters in the South China Sea, something Chinese state media has warned would require Washington to “wage war.”

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by David Gregorio