China's military rise

Its military spending is the second largest in the world, behind that of only the US, growth rate being greater in recent years.

China has announced that it plans to increase its military budget for 2014 to almost $132 billion, a 12.2 per cent rise over last year. This was expected as Beijing has made no bones about its desire to emerge as a dominant military power in the Asia-Pacific.

 It has been systematically working towards that goal, increasing its military budget consistently for the last several years with a special focus on the navy, allowing it to project power across the region.

“We will comprehensively enhance the revolutionary nature of the Chinese armed forces, further modernise them and upgrade their performance, and continue to raise their deterrence and combat capabilities in the information age,” prime minister Li Keqiang said at the opening session of the National People’s Congress which will formally approve policy already made by Communist Party leaders.

China’s military spending is the second largest in the world, behind that of only the United States.The rate of growth in spending is greater than that of recent years.

Though last year, China’s defence budget increased by 10.7 per cent over the previous year, this year’s rate of growth is higher than recent years. This exorbitant increase in China’s military budget over the past several years has sparked concerns among the major powers and China’s neighbours. As a growing economic power, China is concentrating on the accretion of military might to secure and enhance its own strategic interests.

China, which has the largest standing army in the world at 2.3 million-strong, continues to make the most dramatic improvements in its nuclear force among the five nuclear powers. Improvements in its conventional military capabilities are even more impressive.

What has caused concern in Asia and beyond is the opacity of China’s military buildup. A consensus has emerged that Beijing’s real military spending is at least double the announced figure.

The official figures of the Chinese government do not include the cost of new weapons purchases, research or other big-ticket items for China’s highly secretive military. The real figures are thought to be much higher. According to some estimates, China will be spending close to $148 billion on defence as opposed to the officially announced figure of $132 billion.

From Washington to Tokyo, from Brussels to Canberra, calls have been rising for China to be more forthcoming about its intentions behind the dramatic military spending pace and the scope of its military capabilities. Beijing has tried to be more transparent about its defence spending. To try to assuage concerns worldwide about its rapidly growing military capabilities, the Chinese government has released ‘white papers’ on defence for several years now.

China has started asserting its military profile more than ever. Chinese vessels have tackled Somali pirates in the Middle East, the first time Chinese vessels had operated outside Asia. Beijing is also considering sending combat troops abroad in support of UN peacekeeping efforts. The Chinese military has deployed to sea an aircraft carrier it refitted after being purchased from Ukraine, the Liaoning, and has also tested a stealth fighter. 

Displacing the hegemony

Chinese military officers are openly talking of building the world’s strongest military and displacing the US as global hegemony — by means of war if necessary, as one senior officer has suggested.

This kind of talk might be premature at the moment as the US military remains far more advanced than China’s, which does not yet possess the capability to project power far from Chinese shores. Still, China’s neighbours should worry, especially as the US starts to look increasingly inward.

Divisions within China about the future course of nation’s foreign policy are more stark than ever. It is now being suggested that much like young Japanese officers in the 1930s, young Chinese military officers are increasingly taking charge of strategy with the result that rapid military growth is shaping the nation’s broader foreign policy objectives.
 Civil-military relations in China are under stress with the PLA asserting its pride more forcefully than even before and demanding respect from other countries. “A country needs respect, and a military also needs respect,” wrote a major general last year in the PLA’s newspaper.

Not surprisingly, China has been more aggressive in asserting its interests not only vis-a-vis India but also vis-a-vis the United States, the European Union, Japan and Southeast Asian states.

Hawks are gaining ground in the Chinese military as the PLA becomes a powerful force in the country with its budget growing to $200 billion. There is a sense that China can now prevail in conflicts with its regional adversaries. Some voices have openly called for wars.

The Air Force Colonel, Dai Xu, has argued that in light of China’s disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea, a short, decisive war, like the 1962 border clash with India, would deliver long-term peace. This would be possible as Washington would not risk war with China over these territorial spats according to this assessment.

The increasing assertion by the Chinese military and changing balance of power in the nation’s civil-military relations should be a real cause of concern for China’s neighbours. The pace of Chinese military modernisation has already taken the world by surprise and it is clear that the process is going much faster than many had anticipated.

At a time when India’s own defence modernisation programme is faltering, China’s military transformation should be taken seriously by Indian defence planners. China’s military assertiveness vis-à-vis Japan and other Southeast Asian nations is a function of its growing confidence in its military capabilities.

Indian defence establishment, in contrast, is reduced to begging from its civilian masters for adequate provisions. This has not gone unnoticed around the world and particularly in Beijing and will likely have grave consequences for India’s ability to defend its interests.

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