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May 1, 2013

China’s Perceived Military Threat

November 27, 2011

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace in Beijing

There is no doubt that China has emerged as a major contender for global influence because of its rooted passion for asserting itself as a responsible global actor to ensure peace and security in the world. However, in spite of its global influence, it has mostly failed because of its imperialist and interventionist foreign policy.  China deploys its forces in military operations in order to advance its interests abroad and at the same time, enhance its image as a respectable member in the comity of nations.

With that said, China is still suffering from the trauma and agony of middle kingdom complex and has not overcome this self-immagery despite progress in its economy, science and technology, modernization and development, and, particularly in advancing its military power.

Since the 1970s, following the Nixon-Kissenger overtures, China introduced itself to the modern world, after centuries of following isolationist policies.

Coupled with these, the continued ascendency of China has increased manifold and at the same time its dependence on markets and resource –supplies abroad. Its presence in the Indian Ocean and other far-flung areas may further increase its rising engagement for diplomatic ends and economic activities throughout the world.

For this end, it has raised its defense budget manifold. As China’s 2010 Defense White Paper outlines: China’s defense expenditure where 417.876 billion Yuan in 2008, a growth of 17.5 percent, and in 2009, and increase of 495.11 billion Yuan, an increase of 18.5 percent. The defense budget for 2010 was 532.115 billion Yuan (US $ 81.2), 7.5 percent up from 2009. These increased expenditures have been attributed to the social benefits for the armed forces and equipment modernization.

Though the share of China’s annual defense expenditure in the state financial expenditures has declined from 8.66 percent in 1998 to 6.49 percent in 2009, defence spending has touched 601 billion Yuan (US $91.5 billion dollars) in 2011, a hefty hike of 12.7 percent.

As a result, China has developed a massive military infrastructure and has established several military bases around the world. China’s relentless modernization and huge build-up of state-of-the-art armaments has led the U.S. and many around the globe to worry about China’s ultimate aims.

Moreover, Chinese leadership contends that limited transparency is essential to China’s defense strategy- although this creates serious doubts about its intentions given its long history of aggression and interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

Importantly, China’s capabilities are still weak when compared to military powers like the US.

This strategy of obscurity-particularly relating to its imperialist and expansionist designs is witnessed in places like Tibet or in its relations Vis-à-vis Taiwan, or its invocation of “history” and sovereignty claims over the South China Sea in the just concluded East Asia Summit in Bali on Nov. 18 & 19, often undermines China’s projected efforts of transparency, thus making it suspect in the eyes of many international observers.

Since 2008, China’s global strategy included three clear and powerful accomplishments, leading to China’s increasingly confident image and its long-term goal of playing a greater role in the international system.

The successful grand celebrations of the Beijing Olympics in October of 2008, the 60th anniversary military parade in Tiananmen Square on October 1, 2009, where China displayed its indigenous and advanced weapons industry and the Shanghai Expo in 2010, where 73 million people attended.

These three events clearly and unambiguously demonstrated China’s emergence as a global power, its military prowess and its technological achievements. In fact, these events ensured the emergence of an assertive China, one that no longer harps only on the classical communist ideology as exposed by the late, Deng Xiaoping.

On the one hand, these events illustrate that China will never seek hegemony, no matter how the economy develops.

On the other hand, there is a rapid and consistent rise in its power projection capabilities including diversified military tasks in different complex environments.

These diversified military tasks include traditional and non-traditional aspects, whereby the leadership is attempting to find justification for its increasing military capabilities along with visible power projection capabilities and rising defense expenditures.

It is in this context, the 2010 Defense White Paper details about ‘informalisation’, which stands for the way the Chinese military is to modernise itself as the driving force of modernisation, which certainly aims at giving an all-powerful ideological–conceptual thrust to ensure that Chinese excellence continues and provides an all powerful deterrence to its international competitors.

These include electronic countermeasures, computer network operations, building information systems for reconnaissance, intelligence, command and control, battlefield awareness, space and cyberspace that achieve initial interoperability in command and control. This strategy also comes under the broader direction of revolutions in military affairs with Chinese characteristics. China’s historical arch has been to leap frog modernization.

A realisation that innovation in information and communications is becoming the linchpin in addressing technological advances in military technologies has prompted the Chinese leadership to guide the modernisation under such processes. This rationale also comes into view of the Chinese perception of how the United States’ adopted sophisticated military technologies and advances in science and technology that helped transform US military forces so that they could conduct high–tech warfare with the assistance of space-based assets.

Thus, the 2010 Defense White Paper refers to China’s hopes in winning a war under conditions of informalisation which only reaffirms the view that modern warfare has undergone profound changes and there is an urgent need for the Chinese military to adapt or face an adversary who relies on high-tech weapons and systems.

The 2010 Defense White Paper predicts the speeding up of ‘high-tech weaponisation and informalisation of its armed forces as a crucial part of its modernisation. Such changes are necessary to conduct ‘historic-missions’ in Taiwan and safeguard maritime interests in the South China Sea and beyond. However, it is here that Chinese interests run against the interest of other international players, specifically, the United States.

Furthermore, China now sees post-Cold War multi-polarity as a given, calling these developments along with economic liberalisation and globalisation ‘irreversible’.

What is very surprising and also perplexing is the fact that China has declared itself to be essential to the peace, security, stability, and prosperity of the international system.

This promulgation by China, though ostensibly for good, is particularly challenging and also threatening to the sole hyperpower in the world, as if the future course of the world will be markedly influenced by China, if not decided by them.

Increasingly, with suspicion and countermoves increasing against China, security challenges are seen by the major powers as increasing. This also adversely affects military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region and the realignment of major powers and their strategies. This realization has prompted the Chinese leadership to accelerate its economic, political and security cooperation with developing countries.

Apart from security threats, surge in sophisticated military technology among major powers are driving China to quicken the pace of its military technologies and capabilities.

China’s security strategy in Asia–Pacific, recongizes the Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) as offering regional stability, as China expands its role in these organisations. While China is still relatively positive in portraying economic realities, it still views security in Asia-Pacific as becoming more intricate and volatile.

As a result, a perception has recently arisen, more imaginary than factual perhaps, of a likely fall of the American sphere of influence, particularly in South Asia, which resonates with China. President Obama, while in Canberra, Australia, announced a new security arrangement with Australia that is widely believed to be a response to Beijing’s rising aggressive posturing.

The agreement will expand the US military presence in Australia by positioning more US personnel and equipment there, and will also increase the US access to bases.

Besides these strategic moves, the US would appear to be sending a clear message that China needs to accept the responsibilities that come with being a world power.

The above mentioned facts would seem to suggest that the US and China are now on their way to inevitable collision course.

However, this is not true. In fact, both countries are closely linked in a number of ways, are infact dependent on one another, which demands their mutual adherence to common interests.

Firstly, trade and commerce. The US has a dependency on Chinese manufactured goods which ensures that the US middle class can continue to enjoy a higher standard of living than would otherwise be possible.

Secondly, China’s enormous holding of US government bonds make their economies so interdependent that any sudden attempt to alter this arrangement will be disastrous to both the US and China.

Thirdly, there are many other critical global issues: arresting the adverse impact of climate change, enhancing global trade, addressing world energy issues and regional conflicts. All these cannot be satisfactorily addressed without close cooperation between China and the United States.

Besides these, the steady decline of Japan and the rise of a truncated Republic of Korea and closely behind them, India, with its accelerated economic growth, are the significant developments that have led to wholesale changes in the Asia-Pacific region.

Consequently, the emerging power disequilibrium is also beginning to cause pressures and strains on China’s relations with its neighbours as well as with the United States.

As a result, China’s growing assertiveness as it relates to the South China Sea and Taiwan, has made China a kind of threat which the ASEAN countries take seriously.

A withdrawal from this position would be a serious loss of face and yet, the alternate may lead to a confrontation, where US has again reaffirmed its support to ASEAN at the Bali Summit.

The PLA’s presence in the Indian Ocean and China’s domination of the littoral areas is another issue of controversy. While India has been talking and conferencing with littoral navies, China has acted and secured its interests. The second phase of this contest is to begin with the PLA Navy’s launch of its first ever aircraft carrier.

Further, the more important issue is the comparative economic strength of the US and China.

However, there is no need for alarm as a sensible strategy and a comprehensive policy comprising economic liberalisation may ultimately lead to a political solution that could allieviate many of the issues of conflict that China and the international community currently face.

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