Howard 'Buck' McKeon, a Republican congressman, represents a region north of Los Angeles of suburban sprawl, fruit trees, sparse desert - and, as his website notes, a workforce of 20,000 employed by defence industry contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. Pumping up defence spending has been a way of life for McKeon, who has served in Congress since 1993. Now, a wave of Republican wins in last week's US congressional elections may usher him into a role of distinct influence on the issue. McKeon is likely to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. But with a federal budget stretched to the limit, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are winding down, how would he justify the increase he seeks in the Pentagon budget? In part, by looking east. 'As Chinese naval, air and nuclear power rapidly grows - ours diminishes by comparison,' McKeon said in a statement responding to the Pentagon's annual report this year on Chinese military power. The August report, he said, 'validates the need to modernise and increase our navy's force structure'. China's growing military might is an issue McKeon has returned to again and again during his tenure on the House Armed Services Committee, which plays an influential role in steering US defence spending. In a hearing in January, he asked whether a Chinese military defence test was intended to send an 'aggressive signal' in response to US arms sales to Taiwan, warned that Chinese hacking could disrupt US commercial activities and compromise military data, and pointed to PLA naval forces' harassment of a US Navy ship, the Impeccable, as evidence of the 'increasing risks of China's expanding military operations'. McKeon said he feared the Pentagon would downgrade its threat assessment of China as a way to justify defence cuts. 'It's critical that this committee ensures we maintain our military superiority in undersea warfare and in environments where there are advanced anti-aircraft, ballistic and cruise missiles, and cyber and space threats,' McKeon said at a hearing in March. 'China's not the only nation of concern, but it is one that requires our immediate attention.' As one of a number of Republican voices that will have a taller platform and more sway in the new Congress, McKeon represents a potential irritant for China, says Dean Cheng, research fellow at the Asian Studies Centre at the Heritage Foundation, in Washington. When it comes to defence spending, 'McKeon will have an enormous amount of influence in what gets pushed and what doesn't', Cheng says. 'His voice is going to be a very important one in terms of what will be built, their numbers and types - how many aircraft carriers, how many amphibious ships.' One thing he is likely to push is missile defence, Cheng says. 'This will likely put him at odds with the Chinese, who are very unhappy with sustained US efforts in the missile defence arena, especially given their build-up of missiles opposite Taiwan.' But McKeon's efforts may ride up against some intractable resistance, says Richard Bush, who leads the Centre for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. 'The big variable is the larger federal budget - how much money is left to spend at the margin on defence,' Bush says. 'It's a rather constrained environment, and that may place limits on what we can do in the short term to build capabilities to respond to China.' Leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee looks likely to fall to another critic of China; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has pushed for a continuation of the US policy of arms sales to Taiwan, as well a US-Taiwan free-trade agreement. She is also likely to use a leadership position to criticise China's human rights record, says John Kamm, founder and chairman of The Dui Hua Foundation, a California-based group that advocates for human rights in China.