CHINA'S MILITARY BUILD-UP: A DISSENTING POINT OF VIEW
"China’s rise as a major international actor is likely to stand out as a defining feature of the strategic landscape of the early 21st century. Sustained economic development has raised the standard of living for China’s citizens and elevated China’s international profile. This development, coupled with an expanding science and technology base, has also facilitated a comprehensive and ongoing military modernization program. The United States welcomes a strong, prosperous, and successful China that reinforces international rules and norms and enhances security and peace both regionally and globally. China is steadily assuming new roles and responsibilities in the international community. In 2004, Chinese President Hu Jintao articulated new guidance for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including missions extending beyond China’s immediate territorial interests. This catalyzed China’s growing involvement in international peacekeeping efforts, counter-piracy operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and the evacuation of Chinese citizens from overseas trouble spots. China’s 2010 Defense White Paper asserts that China’s ―future and destiny have never been more closely connected with those of the international community.‖ Nonetheless, China’s modernized military could be put to use in ways that increase China’s ability to gain diplomatic advantage or resolve disputes in its favor. Although the PLA is contending with a growing array of missions, Taiwan remains its main strategic direction.‖ China continued modernizing its military in 2010, with a focus on Taiwan contingencies, even as cross-Strait relations improved. The PLA seeks the capability to deter Taiwan independence and influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms. In pursuit of this objective, Beijing is developing capabilities intended to deter, delay, or deny possible U.S. support for the island in the event of conflict. The balance of cross-Strait military forces and capabilities continues to shift in the mainland’s favor. Over the past decade, China’s military has benefited from robust investment in modern hardware and technology. Many modern systems have reached maturity and others will become operational in the next few years. Following this period of ambitious acquisition, the decade from 2011 through 2020 will prove critical to the PLA as it attempts to integrate many new and complex platforms, and to adopt modern operational concepts, including joint operations and network-centric warfare. China has made modest, but incremental, improvements in the transparency of its military and security affairs. However, there remains uncertainty about how China will use its growing capabilities. The United States recognizes and welcomes PRC contributions that support a safe and secure global environment. China’s steady integration into the global economy creates new incentives for partnership and cooperation, particularly in the maritime domain. Although China’s expanding military capabilities can facilitate cooperation in pursuit of shared objectives, they can also increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation. Strengthening our military-to-military relationship is a critical part of our strategy to shape China’s choices as we seek to capitalize on opportunities for cooperation while mitigating risks. To support this strategy, the United States must continue monitoring PRC force development and strategy. In concert with our friends and Allies, the United States will also continue adapting our forces, posture, and operational concepts to maintain a stable and secure East Asian environment".
The Office of the Secretary of Defence, "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2011: Annual Report to Congress." No Date, in www.defence.gov.
“It’s a combination of the lack of understanding that’s been created by the opacity of their system, but it is also because there are very real questions given the overall trends and trajectory in the scope and the scale of China’s military modernization efforts,” Mr. Schiffer said. “I wouldn’t put it on any one particular platform or any one particular system. There’s nothing particularly magical about any one particular item.”
American Defence Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Michael Schiffer, quoted in Elizabeth Bumiller, "U.S. Official Warns About China's Military Build-up." The New York Times. 24 August 2011, in www.nytimes.com.
"About thirty years ago the fear of the 'Yellow Peril' was the fashion. It was said that China and Japan were about to advance towards economic and perhaps also military conquest of Europe and other regions. Much was written to stress the vast size of the yellow races, their modest standard of living which ensured the low prices of manufactured goods, the political sense of Japan, the reawakening of China after a sleep of centuries. Then gradually these fears abated and were replaced by others."
Vilfredo Pareto, "Russia." 13 June 1922, in The Other Pareto. Edited & translated by Placido & Gillian Bucolo. (1980), p. 258.
It is quite easy to become excessively alarmed by the American Defence Department report. Indeed, au fond that is part and parcel of the rationale of the report in the first place. Since with the likelihood of cuts (albeit from a
high level of current spending) in future years of American defence spending, the temptation by American military officials to beat the drum of a future 'Chinese military threat' is perhaps too much to overlook. Regardless of the reasoning behind the report, is there currently any danger posed by the PRC to American and Western interests in the Pacific, much less beyond the same? Based upon the information provided in the report, as well as other sources, the short answer is a resounding no. Which is not to gainsay the fact that, if (a very very contingent variable here) American-Western economies do not eventually recover by say 2020 from the deleveraging process currently under way, then, and only then perhaps there might be a real danger that the Americans could be under pressure to cut substantially their military budget. Id est, real cuts resulting in reductions in spending in real terms (AKA before factoring in projected increases). Currently, the American defence budget is upwards of forty-two percent of total military spending in the world. A figure higher than say 1988-1990 1. Even if this figure were to recede to something approaching forty percent, per se that would not change the strategic balance very much, given the fact that most of the other major military powers are American allies, either de facto or de jure, and thus not allied with the PRC: Japan, India, and the countries of Western Europe 2. With only the Russian federation among major military powers not being either de facto or de jure in the American camp. It is this pre-dominance of military hardware and allies, over and above the sheer size of the American military machine, which makes I for one a tad bit skeptical about the the likelihood that the Peking could possibly be a real military threat. Especially, since in geo-strategic terms, the PRC is 'boxed-in' its East Asian land space. As one China specialist, recently described the situation graphically from the PRC's perspective:
"Chinese decision-makers realize that China’s overall strategic position in East asia does not provide any leverage for China to adopt a confrontational approach towards any other major player in the region. After two decades of laborious efforts in consolidating its strategic foothold in the region, China is, by and
large, still a strategically isolated big power in East asia. China is not pleased with the situation but its leaders regard it as a strategic quandary that China will have to live with for a long time" 3.
None of the above is to gainsay the fact, that the best guarantee of continued long-term, Western (American & European) global predominance is: i) increased economic growth (over and above the current trend-rate of 1.5%-2.0%) 4; ii) increased diplomatic outreach to those countries: India, Vietnam inter alia, who share Western concerns about Chinese expansionism. With one hopes in time a resurgent Russian Federation also involved; iii) a shared willingness to employ when needed Western military might vis-`a-vis the PRC `a la former American President Clinton's policy in the crisis over Formosa in 1996. There would be no greater risk to Western world-wide hegemony than a failure of nerve to employ directly or indirectly military force when the situation shows that it is needed. Especially against the regime in power in Peking.
1. On this subject matter, see: Sebastian Mallaby, "American power requires economic sacrifice." The Financial Times. 6 July 2011, in www.ft.com & Neil Bouhan & Paul Swartz. "Trends in U.S. Military Spending." Council on Foreign Relations. 28 June 2011, in www.cfr.org.
2. Bouhan & Swartz, op cit.
3. Mingjiang Li, "China's Non-confrontational Assertiveness in The South China Sea." The Freeman Report. (July / August 2011), p. 2.
4. As the 'Lex' column in Monday's Financial Times cogently notes: much of the much vaunted, American budget deficit would disappear, if economic growth would return to the trend-rate of 3.0% of the 1982-1990 & 1992-2001 periods. With the key quandary being if this is in fact possible in the aftermath of the financial crisis of the last three years. See: Lex, "US Budget: forecast tax take flaw." The Financial Times 29 August, in www.ft.com.