The Communist giant is still a long way from building a military as strong as the United States. But as the debt-ridden US Government looks to cut defense costs, China, the world’s second largest economy, continues to rapidly invest in it’s military hardware.
For the past two years, China’s defense budget grew by 15% a year (according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). This year, Beijing reportedly tightened the reins to 3.8%, though most analysts believe that the real total is probably much higher, given that China’s defense budget is only partially disclosed.
China has not fought a major conflict since a border war with Vietnam in 1979 and is not a Soviet-style Cold War rival threatening American soil. But its rapid militarization raises questions about whether the US can meet its commitment to maintain a strong presence in the Asia-Pacific region – a matter not just of global prestige but also seen as critical for safeguarding shipping lanes vital for world trade and protecting allies.
Over the past decade China has pressed it’s sea claims off its shores with rather pompous belligerence. It confronted:
- South Korea over the Yellow Sea‘s Socotra Rock
- Japan over the Okinotori Islands (2000km away in the Pacific)
- and just last year China tangled again with Japan over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea
All these sea claims are small specks of land with the potential to become large points of friction. Although President Obama insists that the US has “nothing to fear” from a rapidly rising China, many defense experts and strategic analysts say (particularly at the Pentagon) that while we may have nothing to fear, we have plenty to keep us awake.