CHINA: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
US, Japan concern over China's military build-up
, October 23, 2004
A consequence of China's growing economic power has been a massive build-up of China's military forces, which is causing increasing concern in countries such as the United States and Japan, as well as Taiwan.
Compounding the concerns is a prospective European Union plan to lift a 15-year embargo on arms deliveries to China that US experts fear could exacerbate the military imbalance in Asia and speed up Chinese capability to manufacture even more powerful weapons systems.
Japan's Defence White Paper, issued last July, said that China's increasingly high-tech military capabilities need to be watched closely, along with Beijing's marine research near Japan's exclusive economic zone.
"China is seeking to shift the emphasis in its military forces from "quantity" to "quality", moving to a position where it will have a nucleus of regular forces capable of coping with modern warfare," the White Paper said.Growing spending
Accompanying China's economic growth, its military budget began to expand rapidly in 1994, and has had double-digit growth in almost every year since. This is far in excess of China's economic growth rate.
According to the Beijing authorities' own published figures, China's military budget in 2003 passed US$23 billion, much of it in the provinces adjacent to the Taiwan Strait.
Much of China's growing military budget has been spent on foreign procurements, including high-performance Su-27 and Su-30 fighter-jets from Russia, Sovrenmenny-class destroyers, Kilo-class submarines, and advanced weapon systems.
China's deployment of missiles is also a cause for worry, with around 550 short- to mid-range ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan from the south-eastern coastal region of the mainland.
Roger Robinson and Richard D'Amato, the chairman and vice-chairman respectively of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said "a significant component" of China's defence strategy was to develop capability to deter US military involvement in any conflict over Taiwan.
"The United States cannot wish away this capacity," warned the two officials from the commission, entrusted to report to Congress on the security implications of the rapidly growing US-China bilateral trade and economic ties.
"We cannot assume China will stay its hand because it has too much at stake economically to risk military conflict over Taiwan," they said in a joint statement.
The United States is Taiwan's biggest ally and arms supplier and is bound by law to provide weapons to help Taiwan defend itself if the island's security is threatened. But Washington also acknowledges Beijing's position that Taiwan is part of China.
Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has recently angered the Chinese leadership with his persistence in wanting to give the island a new constitution.
China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, despite division 55 years ago at the end of a civil war, and has said it will invade if Taiwan declared independence.
Richard Lawless, US Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense, said China was expected to spend $50 to $70 billion on military expenditures this year - more than double the $25 billion that had been budgeted.
China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is the largest purchaser of foreign military weapons and technology on the back of China's rapidly growing economy, experts say.
"What I am worried about is we are going to end up facing a communist military backed by a capitalist industrialist base of enormous power," said Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
Some experts forecast a scenario where the United States might be incapable of defending its interests in North Asia, in light of its existing commitments in the Middle East.
"The forces that China is putting in place right now will probably be more than sufficient to deal with a single American aircraft-carrier battle group," said Rick Fisher, Asian Security Studies Fellow at the US-based Center for Security Policy.
Fisher warned that if the European Union lifted its arms embargo on China soon, as expected, the PLA could create new arms industry alliances that would further accelerate its access to, and use of, advanced military technologies and worsen the arms imbalance in Asia.
Arthur Lauder, professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, said the Chinese military "is the only one being developed anywhere in the world today that is specifically configured to fight the United States of America."
"My own view is that no objective reason exists why China, if she stays on her present course, should not eventually pose an even greater threat to the United States and its friends and allies than did the Soviet Union," he said.