China’s Precarious Military Rise

Discussion in 'China' started by Ray, Nov 15, 2013.

  1. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    China’s Precarious Military Rise

    BY GHASSAN ABDALLAH

    Speculation in the international relations "balance-of-power" literature has progressed to narrowly focus on China as America's most likely future military rival. This academic focus on China has recently been reinforced by the Pentagon's 2011 report on China's future military capabilities. The report stressed that China is on track to develop a modern military by the year 2020, a rapid buildup that is likely to destabilize the Asia-Pacific region, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. This assessment by Pentagon analysts triggered an immediate rebuke from the Chinese embassy in Washington which called the report "a reflection of a Cold War mentality." The Chinese embassy statement went on to add: "we hope the U.S. will take practical steps to work with China for stable and healthy military ties by following the spirit of mutual respect, mutual trust, reciprocity and mutual benefit." A call destined to fall on deaf ears.

    Offensive Realism

    Realists tend to hold a pessimistic view of international relations. They believe that the anarchy of the international system or the lack of a central governing authority forces the principal actors of the system, nation-states to engage in endless competition. Realists do not distinguish between "good" democratic states that respect human rights and "bad" non-liberal autocratic states. The domestic sources of foreign policy are not as relevant as the international environment. It is the distribution of power or the structure of the international system that shapes the policies of great powers and influences their behavior. Offensive realism is a realist theory of international politics developed by John Mearsheimer that emphasizes the tendency of "states to maximize power, with hegemony as their ultimate goal" (The Tragedy Of Great Power Politics 2003, p. 22). Mearsheimer believes that great powers seek to achieve regional hegemony in their neighborhood and seek to prevent other great powers from establishing a similar hegemony in their own region. In an article titled "China's Unpeaceful Rise" published by the Journal of Current History (April 2006), Mearsheimer writes: "States that gain regional hegemony have a further aim; they seek to prevent great powers in other regions from duplicating their feat. Regional hegemons do not want peers" (p.161). Hence the United States which established regional hegemony over the Western Hemisphere beginning in the late 19th century is now actively engaged in preventing China from establishing regional hegemony in its own neighborhood, the Asia-Pacific region.

    Mearsheimer believes that China will attempt to dominate "Asia the way the United States dominates the Western Hemisphere. An increasingly powerful China is also likely to try to push the United States out of Asia, much the way the United States pushed the European great powers out of the Western Hemisphere. We should expect China to come up with its own version of the Monroe Doctrine" (Ibid., p.162). The realist tradition is a very rich tradition with great explanatory power, and Mearsheimer and other realists are correct in their assumption that China will attempt to rise to a position of preeminence. However, one can take issue with the widely held belief among realists that China's rise will be successful. China's rise to dominate Asia and countries such as Japan and Russia will be significantly more challenging, and is not comparable to the United States' regional hegemony over Mexico and Canada. One can also find fault with Mearsheimer's assertion that no nation-state can achieve global hegemony, and his labeling of the United States as a "regional" not a global hegemon. Mearsheimer is wrong. Not only is the United States a global hegemon, but it is arguably the strongest global power in history.

    China Myth Versus China Reality

    While the Unites States spends close to $700 billion annually on defense China spends less than $150 billion. Much had been made recently of China's launch of a Soviet-made refitted aircraft carrier, and its development of a stealth aircraft-- the Chengdu J-20 fighter. However, those developments are not likely to alter the pacific balance of power. In an article titled "China's Over-hyped Stealth Jet" written for The Diplomat, an international current affairs magazine, David Axe notes that most analysts predict a fleet of a few hundred Chinese J-20 fighters. "Against these, by 2030 the Pentagon will likely posses no fewer than 2,600 F-22s and F-35s in total, and with better pilots and more support aircraft, to boot. Meanwhile, the United States' closest allies in Asia will probably possess hundreds of advanced fighters of their own" (January 7, 2011). And when it comes to American-Chinese naval competition, the United States which operates eleven carriers and the larger number of nuclear powered submarines will continue to have the qualitative and quantitative advantages for decades to come. Furthermore, China's rise to dominate Asia will be frustrated by resistance from its neighbors who would move collectively to balance against it. Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and India all fear China and view American power as being more benevolent. While China has territorial and maritime disputes with several Asian countries, the United States does not. This makes it more likely that the United States will remain the dominant strategic actor in the Asia Pacific region as it works with other regional actors to contain China's rise.

    American Primacy Unchallenged

    The status of the United States as the world's strongest power is almost without precedent. Not since Rome has a great power enjoyed such an overwhelming political and military dominant position as the United States enjoys today. The United States maintains army, air, and naval bases across continents, making it the only military power with a true global reach. Balance of power theory leads one to believe that such overwhelming power possessed by a hegemonic state would be viewed as a threat by other states that would move singularly or collectively to balance against it. However, since the demise of the Soviet Union over two decades ago no nation-state or group of states have been able to achieve an effective balance against the United States.

    Unipolarity has persisted to the surprise of many, including the founder of neo or structural realism and the most influential scholar in international relations, Kenneth Waltz. In an article titled "Structural Realism After the Cold War" written for International Security Journal (Summer 2000) Waltz asserts: "Upon the demise of the Soviet Union, the international political system became unipolar. In the light of structural theory, unipolarity appears as the least durable of international configurations" (p. 27). Waltz's view has been echoed by other structural realists such as Christopher Layne. In two academic articles for International Security Journal titled "The Unipolar Illusion: Why New Great Powers Will Rise" (Spring 1993), and "The Unipolar Illusion Revisited" (Fall 2006) Layne argues that the challenge to the United States can come from Russia and China or from Cold War allies such as Japan and Germany who already have an economic capacity and the ability to develop a military one as well. However, in reality the technological, economic, and military gap between the states mentioned by Layne and the United States continues to be wide. The ingredients for building a new balance against the United States are lacking—unipolarity will endure for decades to come.

    China’s Precarious Military Rise | Ghassan Abdallah | FINANCIAL SENSE
     
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  3. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Hopefully the above will elicit comments from those who feel that Defence Forum India is less about Defence and more about everything else.

    This is my humble contribution to make it more of a defence forum.

    Hopefully, we shall have a fine debate on the above inputs.
     
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  4. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    ‘Rising China’: A Threat to International Security?

    By Neil Renic


    The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the conclusion of a bipolar political order that had defined the world since 1945. In its place emerged a global framework, largely characterised by the hegemonic ascendance of the United States of America (U.S.). The primacy of the U.S. in this unipolar system has led theorists such as Waltz to claim, ‘never since Rome has one country so nearly dominated its world’ (2002: 350). Assertions such as this, however, have been problematised by the rapid rise of China as a global power. Increasingly, contemporary China is being re-conceptualised as a realistic economic, political and military counterbalance to U.S. hegemony. For much of the world, this perception has led to growing anxiety that the rise of China poses a significant threat to international security. This essay, however, will dispute this claim, arguing that China’s potential as a threat to international security is consistently exaggerated and a relatively benign rise is entirely possible. This will be done by first establishing the ways in which the current rise of China is viewed as a threat to international security by many states and individuals. The inevitability of China ‘rising’ to achieve hegemon status will next be critiqued, as well as current perceptions regarding emerging Chinese foreign policy. Next, the importance of China’s economic integration with the rest of the world will be highlighted. Lastly, the likelihood of a more powerful China leading to regional insecurity, particularly surrounding relations with Taiwan, will be examined.

    For numerous states, the sustained military, political and economic ascension of China is increasingly viewed as a likely threat to international security. The rapid pace in which China has managed its societal transformation is arguably without historical comparison. China’s subsequent increase in military spending, as well as its commitment to modernising its military capabilities, is cited by many, including the U.S., as clear evidence of its growing potential to threaten international security. This concern was evident in the 2006 Quadrennial Defence Review, which cited China, of all major and emerging powers, as having the ‘greatest potential to compete militarily’ with the U.S. and highlighted China’s ability to field military technology ‘that could over time offset traditional U.S. military advantages’ (2006: 29). As well as China’s general military capacity, the U.S. has grown increasingly concerned over Chinese nuclear ambitions. This was highlighted in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report (NPRR) which cited China’s ‘qualitative and quantitative modernisation’ of its nuclear arsenal, as well as its relative lack of transparency, as significant factors in growing regional and international anxiety (U.S. Department of Defence 2010: V). China’s strengthening military, coupled with a perceived increase in regional antagonism, has generated additional concern for international security. Regarding Chinese regional aspirations, it is the claim of many that China ultimately wished to assert a “Monroe Doctrine”, throughout East Asia, excluding non-regional powers (Bowring 2010: 2). Given the continued U.S. involvement in much of East Asia, if this assessment proves accurate, the ramifications for international security would indeed be severe.

    As well as China’s military advancements, its economic growth has continued at an unrivalled pace. The meteoric ascent of China’s economy over the last twenty-five years has transformed regional and international power dynamics (Blij 2005: 129). This very phenomena, however, has been cited as a likely cause of future international insecurity. Realists such as Mearsheimer argue that if the rapid economic growth of China continues over the coming decades, an intense security competition between the U.S. and China is likely to result, with a significant potential for war (2006:160). In order to more accurately assess China’s capability to disrupt international security, a more reasoned analysis of China’s current and potential strength as a state must be undertaken.

    Threats to international security generated by China’s challenge to U.S. hegemony must be viewed more soberly, particularly given the uncertainty of China’s ‘rise’. While China’s economic growth and surge in GDP has been dramatic, its long-term continuation has been challenged by some. One study suggests that by 2015, the odds of China experiencing a significant slowdown in GDP growth rates were over 70% (The Economist 2011: 2). This makes assertions on the inevitability of war, generated by an economic rivalry between the U.S. and China, increasingly problematic. Additionally, while China has indeed experienced an unprecedented surge in national GDP, wealth disparity continues to impede the state’s development. The decision of Chinese leadership to identify inequality as one of the greatest political challenges currently facing its society (Klein 2008: 07:33), clearly demonstrates the continued uncertainty surrounding China’s rise. Similarly, growing anxiety surrounding China’s military spending must also be properly contextualised, particularly given the continued dominance of the U.S. military. In 2009 the U.S. military spent over USD $738 billion, whereas estimates of China’s annual military budget range from USD $69.5 billion to USD $150 billion (Thomson 2010: 87). Additionally, China’s potential nuclear threat, while growing, is still comparatively small and vulnerable when viewed alongside that of the U.S. China’s nuclear stockpile is currently between a tenth and a hundredth the size of the U.S. arsenal (Glaser 2011: 91). These figures suggest that, despite China’s military modernisation attempts, any military exchange between the two states would be hugely asymmetrical. The continued pre-eminence of the U.S. military will be a significant factor in the potential of a growing China to disrupt international security. China, fully aware that an increase in bellicosity can be challenged by the U.S., with overwhelming force, will attempt a peaceful transition to great power status. This is further apparent through an examination of China’s current foreign policy.

    An analysis of China’s foreign policy suggests that its growth in power and influence will present a minimal threat to international security. Among those who claim that a rising China constitutes a significant risk to international stability, comparisons are often drawn between current U.S./China friction and the Cold-War relationship between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. This, however is misleading. The Cold-War was essentially a conflict of incompatible ideologies. While the capitalist U.S. model advocated individual freedoms, the free market, and political and civil rights; communism sought to promote class equality and an emancipation of the working class (Brady and Said 1993: 591). Crucially, both models were expansionist in nature, ensuring tensions between the two superpowers would escalate in the post-WWII years. This ensuing conflict would play a dominant role in world politics, with both superpowers transforming global security into a zero-sum game (Bisley 2007: 233). The relationship between contemporary China and the U.S. is vastly different, with a far greater likelihood of non-zero-sum solutions arising to emerging problems. Jisi argues that China currently has little interest in transforming itself into a hegemon, viewing its core interests as security, sovereignty, and development, as well as the elevation of its people’s living standards (2011: 5).

    This challenges the assertions of offensive realists, who claim that achieving hegemon status within the global system is a state’s ultimate goal (Mearscheimer 2001, cited in Snyder 2002:152). Concern over the rise of China often stems from fears that an increase in parity between China and the U.S. will trigger an accelerated security dilemma between the two states. Hertz contends that the security dilemma is an unavoidable condition that results from the anarchical nature of the international system, whereby the defensive security measures of a state can cause a perception of hostile intent by other states (1950, cited in Burke 2007: 148). This can lead to a military build-up in response, resulting in an overall loss of security and increase in anxiety for all states. Given China’s primarily domestic focus, as opposed to the expansionist grand strategy of the Soviet Union, predictions of international insecurity resulting from an emerging security dilemma seems exaggerated. This is made further apparent with an examination of the economic interconnectedness that exists between China and the rest of the world.

    The continued economic benefits of a rising China for the rest of the world, will largely mitigate any potential threat it poses to international security. A key determinant in the likelihood of international hostilities resulting from a growth in China’s status, is China’s current position in the world economy.

    Unlike the rise of the Soviet Union, which was characterised by confrontation and autarky, China has opted for global integration through its own form of capitalism (Jacques 2005: 1). China’s entry into global economic institutions, such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), represents an encouraging development in international security. Liberal theory suggests that the creation of institutions and regimes, such as the WTO, are crucial in blunting the more destructive features of international anarchy and ensuring the prevention of the security dilemma (Booth and Wheeler 2008: 139), which as previously established, is a crucial component in the increase of international insecurity. The economic inter-dependence that exists between China and the rest of the world has hugely increased the potential costs of war, while decreasing its probable gains. This is apparent by observing growing trade between China and other states. Between 2000 and 2005, Chinese imports from the U.S. climbed from USD$16 billion to USD$42 billion, while Chinese exports to the U.S. rose from USD$100 billion to USD$243 billion (Hufbaur, Wong and Sheth 2006: 4). As well as the U.S., China has economically integrated itself with large areas of the globe. States that have recently forged closer bonds with China include Australia, which currently experiences unprecedented and growing economic ties with the rising power (Taylor 2005: 193), and the European Union (EU), which has considered lifting its twenty year arms embargo of China in the hopes of guaranteeing more lucrative trade deals (Cendrowicz 2010: 2). Despite global economic integration contributing to a more benign rise of China, some fear that China’s demand for resources may trigger conflict with other great powers. Bijan suggests that this is unlikely, as China, through efficiency, alternative energies, and conservation, hopes to develop non-zero sum measures to transcend resource scarcity (2005: 22). Even if this is possible, however, many contend that the true threat to international security lies in China’s dealings with other regional powers.

    Despite alarmist claims to the contrary, the growth of China is unlikely to jeopardise the security of other regional states. When describing the rise of continental powers, Napoleon famously said, ‘the policies of such states are inherent in their geography’ (cited in Kaplan 2010: 23). This is certainly true regarding the rise of contemporary China. Whatever China’s true regional ambitions are, an observation of the East Asian alliance system indicates the improbability of a Chinese “Monroe Doctrine” in the near future. With direct economic and political contestation from both India and Japan, both key allies to the U.S. (Power 2006: 32), any attempt to supplant the U.S. as a regional hegemon, seems increasingly unlikely. Nye states that a more probable scenario for East Asia is one in which the U.S., Japan, Australia, India, and others, from a position of strength, engage China and incentivise it to engage more responsibly with the regional community. By again contrasting the rise of China with that of the Soviet Union, likely regional developments are better able to be ascertained. While the Soviet Union was believed to be a ‘highly revisionist state bent on radically overturning the status quo’ (Glaser 2011: 85), virtually no evidence suggests China shares these qualities. This highlights the reasonable probability of avoiding war within East Asia, as China continues to rise.

    Finally, the maintenance of the regional status quo seems increasingly likely, given the direct advantage to China of a significant U.S. naval presence in East Asia. Strategic analyst Khalid R. Al-Rodhan argues that the U.S. naval dominance of East Asia serves China strategically by providing security against terrorism and smuggling, maintaining the balance of power by preventing Japanese militarisation, and contributing to general stability (2007: 52). The fact that the U.S. East Asian naval presence allows China to better focus on domestic matters, strongly suggests that peace can be maintained regionally, as China continues to strengthen. Despite these positive developments, virtual unanimity can be found among those concerned with China’s rise, when focus is placed on the volatility that exists between China and Taiwan.

    Despite the severe risk to international security presented by China and Taiwan’s fractious relationship, the chances of a peaceful resolution are greater than the alternative of war. Tensions between China and Taiwan, resulting from Taiwan’s uncertain international status, have been regularly identified as having the potential to cause massive international instability, and until this point have been dealt with by a combination of legal manipulation, complex diplomacy and a detachment from political realities (DeLisle 2000: 35). Despite the situation’s current failure to escalate into internecine conflict, fears are growing that the rapid rise of China may manifest into revisionism of Taiwan’s status, triggering hostilities. Given its potential to entangle the U.S. and China in large scale war, the Taiwan Strait is viewed by many as one of the most dangerous areas on Earth. (Mandelbaum 1998/99: 31). Some contend, however, that while potentially grave, the Taiwan situation shows signs of stability. Johnston identifies potential processes between China and Taiwan such as noncooperation and conflictual actions, as well as an escalation of ‘malign reciprocation’ (2003: 50), as indicators of an emerging security dilemma. The failure of this situation to so far occur should be grounds for guarded optimism.

    Currently the vast majority of Taiwanese citizens favour either unification with the Chinese mainland, or maintenance of the present status-quo (Chang and Wang 2005: 42). This, combined with an improvement in cross-straight relations and institutional cooperation since the 2008 electoral victory of the Kuomintang Party in Taiwan (Bitzinger and Desker 2008: pg106), should provide additional hope among proponents of peace. Lastly, given that Taiwan’s naval power is still technologically superior to China’s, it is predicted that even without direct U.S. assistance, were diplomacy to collapse, China would be unable to invade Taiwan for at least ten years, if not considerably longer (O’Hanlon 2000: 53, my emphasis). These factors, when viewed in concert, suggest a high probability for future peaceful negotiations of the Taiwan situation, despite the strengthening of China.

    This essay has sought to challenge the claim that a rising China poses a significant threat to international security. The relatively sudden propulsion of China to great power status, through the exponential growth of both its military and economy, has generated considerable anxiety among numerous states. Some contend that as China grows, its contestation with the U.S. for hegemon status may escalate into large-scale warfare. These concerns, however, seem less credible when a realistic comparison of China and the U.S. is undertaken. While the accelerated growth of China’s GDP is indeed enviable, current problems concerning its wealth disparity has the potential to cripple further developments. Additionally, while China and the U.S. are approaching overall economic parity, a huge military asymmetry remains. This will almost certainly inhibit more severe forms of bellicosity from China as it continues to strengthen. Those who fear an emerging Cold War between the U.S. and China consistently fail to comprehend how vastly different the structure of the Chinese state is to that of the former Soviet Union. While the U.S.S.R was largely defined by its confrontational foreign policy and economic isolationism, contemporary China presents an inversion of this grand strategy. By prioritising domestic issues over expansionist foreign policy, as well as a direct economic engagement with the global community, China has forged strong and lasting financial links with other powerful states, which should prevent an escalation of any emerging hostilities. Despite continued concerns over China’s regional ambitions, the strength of the U.S.’s alliance system within East Asia, seems likely to pressure China’s acceptance of the regional status-quo for some time to come. Lastly, given the potential for a rapid and irreversible acceleration into a large-scale conflict, the situation involving Taiwan’s status does constitute a credible threat to international security. However, given the apparent lack of will from either China, Taiwan, or the U.S. to disrupt the political equilibrium, coupled with indicators that suggest China is not seeking overall regional revisionism, the risk to international security seems manageable. While uncertainties regarding the future of China are legion, the peaceful integration into the international order of a strengthening and influential China is entirely possible. Through interaction and increased inter-dependence, the peaceful rise of China can be assured.

    ‘Rising China’: A Threat to International Security?
     
  5. W.G.Ewald

    W.G.Ewald Defence Professionals/ DFI member of 2 Defence Professionals

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    We hear the phrase Cold War mentality from Chinese on DFI. (I have been accused of having it!) First that shows me they are advocates of CCP here but nothing new about that. Secondly, it begs the question, has China changed since the Cold War, or does it have the same policies from that time when the PRC allied with the Soviet Union?
     
  6. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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  7. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    I think it has.

    Earlier it was wooden headed.

    Now quick as mercury

    Formless and unpredictable as to where it will flow!

    Ideology, thought and action breaks up easily into many small droplets and dissolves some earlier pronouncements giving amalgams of totally induced sly confusion.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2013
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