The myth around China’s growing military supremacy

Discussion in 'China' started by kseeker, Nov 11, 2013.

  1. kseeker

    kseeker Retired

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    The myth around China’s growing military supremacy | abc.net.au

    Monday 6 May 2013 5:59PM Antony Funnell

    If global military expenditure is anything to go by, this will be a century of khaki and camouflage. But Antony Funnell discovers the hyped threat of China's growth should be put into perspective. While its military expenditure is second to the US, the gap between the two nations’ spending (and technology) is enormous.

    There is a familiar Western narrative accompanying China’s military growth, which fixates on its rivalry with the United States. Western media often falls prey to portraying every Chinese military development as further proof of an imminent Sino threat to America’s global hegemony.

    This was in evidence last week with the release of an Australian Government White Paper on Defence.

    ‘We welcome China’s rise... the government does not approach China as an adversary,’ said Prime Minister Julia Gillard, trying to play down the China–US rivalry angle. But much of the coverage given to the White Paper’s launch still centred on the idea of an impending global super-power conflict and whether Australia would eventually have to choose which side to support.

    It isn’t just the media that likes to talk up the idea of US–China competition. In 2009 the head of the United States Pacific Command, Admiral Robert Willard, told reporters in South Korea: ‘I would contend that in the past decade or so, China has exceeded most of our intelligence estimates of their military capability and capacity every year. They've grown at an unprecedented rate in those capabilities.’

    Twin fears are at the heart of the China–US rivalry narrative: fear of future global affairs being dominated by a giant totalitarian police state; and fear that the United States, for so long the self-styled protector of democratic freedoms in the world, is fast losing its strength.

    There are also, of course, those who simply like to talk down the USA and its power, either because they object to it, or because they’re part of a long tradition which the BBC’s former Washington correspondent Nick Bryant calls American ‘declinism’—a fashion for constantly predicting the end is nigh.

    So, when the great floating airbase that is the carrier Liaoning manoeuvred for the cameras off China’s northeast coast in November 2012, its launch was immediately interpreted once again as a sign of Beijing’s fast growing military rivalry with the United States.

    According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China spent US$166 billion on its military in 2012, equivalent to about 9.5 per cent of global military spending. In that same year the US spent US$682 billion, accounting for just under 40 per cent of total global expenditure.
    But the Liaoning is a perfect example of just how wrong the commentariat can be when it comes to the world’s most populous nation and its development. You see, the Liaoning isn’t China’s latest full-length aircraft carrier, it’s the country’s only aircraft carrier. And it isn’t even new. The Liaoning is a refurbished ex-Soviet vessel first launched in 1988 and known variously in the past as the Riga and the Varyag.

    Once you account for that fact, the new pride of the Chinese fleet looks far less like a threat to American naval supremacy than an admission of just how dominant the US military remains.

    ‘Not in the same league’ is the way Dr Sam Perlo Freeman from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) describes China’s military strength and sophistication in relation to its US counterpart.

    That’s not to deny that China’s military strength has been increasing dramatically. The latest figures released by SIPRI indicate that Beijing increased its military spending in 2012 by 7.8 per cent. But everything associated with modern China—from its economy to its level of homelessness—has been on a rapid rise over the past few decades. And any attempt to suggest that China will soon be on the verge of rivalling American military might seems fanciful once you examine SIPRI’s country by country breakdown of global military expenditure.

    According to the Institute, China spent US$166 billion on its military in 2012, equivalent to about 9.5 per cent of global military spending. In isolation that sounds impressive enough, until you look at the corresponding expenditure figure for the United States. In that same year, the US spent US$682 billion, accounting for just under 40 per cent of total global expenditure. And while the Obama administration is now engaged in a series of budget cuts that will affect the size of the US military budget in coming years, it’s worth pointing out that the US military has grown enormously in the last decade. In 2013 its budget is 69 per cent greater than it was in 2001 in real terms.

    In other words, while it’s true that China is now second only to the United States in military expenditure, the gap between the two nations’ spending levels is enormous.

    ‘The ratio may continue to go down but the US's overwhelming lead is not going to change in a hurry,’ says Dr Perlo Freeman.

    The difference between the capabilities of the armed forces of both nations is also significant.

    ‘The United States has 11 aircraft carriers, fully fledged with full battle groups around them,’ Dr Perlo Freeman says. ‘The Chinese have one which is largely a training platform decades behind in technology and they've just started building another. So again, the technological capability gap is closing, but it is considerably larger even than the military spending gap,’ he says.

    ‘From China's point of view, they are not trying to match the United States, they know they can't any time in the next couple of decades, what they are perhaps aiming for is a situation where in the event of a localised conflict, for example over Taiwan, the US couldn't have it all its own way,’ says Dr Perlo Freeman. ‘They’re spending on things like anti access area denial capabilities that the United States are quite worried about that would prevent the US's overwhelming naval forces from operating freely in the area around China, around China's coasts and areas like the South and East China Sea.’

    Writing in the prestigious journal Foreign Policy in early 2010, Drew Thompson, the director of China Studies at the Nixon Center, made a similar point: ‘The PLA's global range is much more limited. As of last June, the United States had 285,773 active-duty personnel deployed around the world. But China operates no overseas bases and has only a handful of PLA personnel stationed abroad in embassies, on fellowships, and in UN peacekeeping operations.’

    China might not have the global reach of the United States, and it might not be gearing up for a gladiatorial battle with the Americans anytime soon, but according to SIPRI, it’s clear that the growth in the size and complexion of the Chinese military is having a significant effect on the Asia Pacific region. A point not lost on Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who said in releasing her government’s new Defence blueprint last week: ‘We also recognise that China’s rise and its subsequent military modernisation is changing the strategic order of our region.’

    According to SIPRI’s latest research, military expenditure in Asia rose by 3.3 per cent in 2012 with most countries in the region increasing their military spending substantially. ‘Perhaps the most worrying trend there is the China/Vietnam situation,’ says Dr Perlo Freeman, who expects expenditure levels to continue to rise. ‘Vietnam's increases in military spending are very clearly directed towards China. They are spending a lot on major naval equipment. It is, if you like, a sort of asymmetric arms race between the two in the South China Sea.’

    Rory Medcalf, the director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, agrees that the Asian Century might not be all about peace and prosperity.

    Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning IMAGE: CHINA'S FIRST AIRCRAFT CARRIER, A FORMER SOVIET CARRIER CALLED THE VARYAG. IT WAS RECOMMISSIONED THE LIOANING BY THE PEOPLE'S LIBERATION ARMY NAVY (PLAN) IN 2012 (AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
    ‘There is a potential downside to the increasing economic weight and development of Asian powers and that's because now these countries can afford much bigger militaries,’ he says. ‘These countries already have continuing strategic tensions and rivalries, and some of these tensions are actually worsening as these countries become more wealthy.’

    And China is increasingly the focal point of much of the growing tension, he says.

    ‘It's an unfortunate reality that most of the serious strategic flashpoints in Asia do have something to do with the rise of China,’ he says. ‘They are around China's maritime periphery in particular. Really if you look everywhere from Korea down through the East China Sea, South China Sea, and even around to the China–India border, there is almost a ring of tension around China. I think there is a great degree of strategic mistrust between China and other powerful states in Asia.’

    Mr Medcalf says fear of China’s future intentions in the greater Asian region is now manifesting itself in a series of new treaties between China’s neighbours and also between Asian nations and the United States.

    ‘I do see a tendency of other countries to balance against Chinese power, to join forces in one way or another. This does not amount to formal alliances. We're not seeing NATO in Asia, where all sorts of countries band together in a grand alliance, committing to defend one another against a potential challenge from China. But we are seeing a more complex and sophisticated form of balancing. We are seeing countries strengthen their alliances with the United States one by one. So we're seeing the United States and India, we're seeing the United States and Singapore, the United States and Vietnam, for example, developing these relationships that are one or two steps short of an alliance.’

    Last year, Barack Obama signalled a new direction for American foreign policy—the so-called pivot to Asia. And according to retired US Lieutenant Colonel David Barno, defence relationships are already shaping up as a significant component of that ‘pivot’. To that end, he says, the draw-down of American troops in the Middle East is being counter-balanced by a military refocus on Asia.

    ‘We're seeing the front end of that already,’ Lieutenent Colonel Barno says. He once headed Combined Forces Command Afghanistan and is now a senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. ‘We're seeing the deployment of some additional littoral combat ships, the LCS as they're called—in Singapore we have three new US Navy ships based out there. We've seen the commitment now for Australia to host up to 2,500 US marines in Darwin on a rotational basis and there's a couple of hundred marines up there now.’

    ‘At the same time we still have 60,000 Americans fighting in Afghanistan, so there is still a very large conflict under way that is consuming a lot of American military manpower. So you can expect to see this shift in the Pacific play out over the next several years, not to abruptly arrive on scene on 1 January next year or any time near that.’

    Hand in hand with a significant growth in world military expenditure over the past decade has been a corresponding increase in the global arms trade and once again, China and the greater Asian region are a significant focus. In 2012, China displaced Great Britain to become the fifth biggest supplier of arms in the world.

    Dr Paul Holtom, the director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's Arms Transfers Program, says that traditionally the US, Russia, Germany, France and the UK comprised roughly three-quarters to 80% of the global arms trade, but in recent years China has emerged as a major player.

    ‘What we've seen in recent years, and this comes out in the five-year period for 2008 to 2012, is a dramatic increase by China in terms of the volume of arms exports,’ Dr Holtom says. ‘The last time we saw China in the top five was back at the end of the Cold War thanks to the Iran-Iraq war. And actually when one looks at all the major exporters, a large share of their exports are to Asian states.’

    In fact, according to SIPRI’s research, between 2008 and 2012 the Asian region accounted for almost half of the global imports of major conventional weapons, while over the same period the volume of Chinese arms exports rose by 162 per cent.

    However, Dr Holtom says it would be a mistake to read the growth of the Chinese arms industry in purely military terms. ‘They see it in terms of building political relationships,’ he says. ‘Also we believe that it's connected with gaining access to resources and markets as well, in commercial goods, and not purely military either.’

    Overall the volume of international trade in major conventional weapons has grown by 17 per cent over the past decade and that escalation has led to increasing calls for greater regulation. In April of this year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution supporting an international treaty to regulate the global arms trade. One hundred and fifty-four nations supported the UN Arms Trade Treaty, with only North Korea, Iran and Syria voting against it.

    But even before the treaty is formally enacted, there are already doubts being expressed about how effective it can be.

    Dr Binoy Kampmark is among the doubters. He’s a specialist in law and international relations at RMIT University in Melbourne. He points out that while 154 nations supported the treaty, there were 22 abstentions during the UN vote. And chief among those abstaining were two of the world’s five major exporters—China and Russia.

    ‘If the major exporters are not included in the arrangements, then the treaty has no teeth,’ Dr Kampmark says. ‘I might also point out that along with China and Russia, major exporters, we've got the other side of the coin, we've got major importers. India, for example, abstained as well.’

    But Dr Kampmark also predicts that the US may also have difficulties ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty, even though the Obama administration supports it and United States officials voted yes during the April vote.

    ‘The issue there is an issue that the United States has had with international treaties in its history,’ Dr Kampmark says. ‘There always has been a groundswell of domestic opposition to various international treaties, and the trade treaty that has been passed in the General Assembly is no exception. There has been very vocal opposition in the Senate to this, and of course the Senate is the body that will ratify the treaty. It's fine for President Obama to be appending his signature to an agreement, but to make it part of US law and to make US citizens bound by it, there will need to be a formal ratification process in the Senate, and of course let us not forget that a very vocal group against the treaty is the National Rifle Association which sees this as curtailing or possibly curtailing the entitlement to bear weapons.’

    Whether or not Dr Kampmark is correct in his analysis won’t be clear for at least a month or more. Fifty countries need to formally sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty before it can officially take effect. That process of ratification is due to get underway from 3rd June.
     
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  3. J20!

    J20! Senior Member Senior Member

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    The ground realities are that the JMSDF not to mention the US navy enjoy, and will continue to enjoy qualitative AND quantitative superiority over the PLAN in terms of mordern war fighting capability for another 20 years. Japan alone has more than enough sea control and ASW capability to contain any PLAN actions against it, not even taking into account their overwhelming geographic advantages vis-a-vis China WRT to the Pacific.

    What both the US and Japan realize is their superiority in the Pacific cannot be maintained indefinately in light of China's economic advantage. This US-Japan dog and pony show on how the US has to "save weak Japan" from the big bad PLAN is simply a strategy towards maintaining status quo in the maritime Pacific through bugdet increases and base expansions.

    If the US-Japan alliance is to maintain its overwhelming superiority in the Asia-Pacific, it will have to start taking measures to contain China now, before the PLAN has the capability to indepently and effectively counter their dominace. What are those measures? The US's "rebalancing" towards Asia, and Japan's new "interpretation" of its constitution allowing it to part-take in allied campaigns in "enemy" territory.

    Forget what the media says and consider events objectively.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2013
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  4. no smoking

    no smoking Senior Member Senior Member

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    The problem is that Chinese has no interest to start a war in near future while US-Japan are overstretching their fiscal capacity.
    So as long as Chinese continue its development plan, there is no way out for US-Japan to win.
     
  5. t_co

    t_co Senior Member Senior Member

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    Which is why you see US strategists like Edward Luttwak proposing pre-emptive trade sanctions against China if it continues the dreadful crime of economic growth without accepting the US-led international system. His thesis is that the US should goad all of China's trading partners into hurting China's economy unless China stops trying to "upset the existing Asia-Pacific security order."
     
  6. J20!

    J20! Senior Member Senior Member

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    I can only give Mr. Luttwak credit for cutting to the chase and spelling out the US's strategic objectives without the usual moral/ideological spin. His reasoning though is highly biased and US-centred. He's advocating the point that China cannot and should not pursue economic, military and diplomatic development because it would lead to conflict.

    The flip side to that argument is that the US basicaly did EXACTLY the same thing in its development period. When the fledgling US economy and military were barely developed, it adopted the monroe doctrine-basically unilatteraly designating its preiphery (including south america) a no go zone diplomaticaly and militarily for the world powers of the time. Today China is in a comparable position, and the US is militarily entrenched in China's periphery and is actually trying to discourage China's military modernization IN ITS NEAR-SEAS.

    The US military in the Pacific, not even taking into account its alliances with Japan and Australia, is generations ahead of the PLAN and PLAAF technologicaly and in terms of capability; yet what we see is a campaign to term China's proportionate military mordernization (1.4% of GDP vs 4% for the US) as being "aggressive" and unnecesary.

    When Liaoning was launched, we had calls from the US media for China to "justify" why it needed an aircraft carrier, despite it being a refitted soviet era training platform vs the US navy's 5 supercarriers deployed to the pacific.

    What the US and military advisers like Luttwak are proposing is basically that China stop developing its military capabilities so as to maintain status quo. I don't know whether to term this position hypocrisy or hubris. Probably both.

    And take a wild guess at which country is accused of being a "hegemon" hell bent on "world domination"?
     
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  7. t_co

    t_co Senior Member Senior Member

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    Richard Posner had this to say about Luttwak:

    The guy is part of Andy Marshall's ONA crowd - the biggest bunch of threatmongers on the Potomac. I have heard more than once that the ONA's budget, by all rights, should be coming out of LockMart's marketing spend rather than the US taxpayer.
     
  8. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    China is adding to its military arsenal.

    That is proof enough of their intentions.

    When they are ready, they will show their hand.

    Right now, the US is hard at it to contain them!

    They call it 'encircling'.
     
  9. no smoking

    no smoking Senior Member Senior Member

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    That is why USA is declining! They just got too stupid strategists like Edward Luttwak!
    Mr Luttwak doesn't realise that China already become a part of the global economic system which is contructed and lead by USA. There is no way that USA can cut China out without hurting itself badly!
     
  10. J20!

    J20! Senior Member Senior Member

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    And what "intentions" does this "evidence" point towards?

    Forgive me if I'm wrong, but aren't the US, Britain, France, Russia etc " adding to its military arsenal" as well? Are they all "reacting" to china's "aggressive" modernisation of its armed forces?

    The US alone - which on paper has the military capability to engage and WIN against the rest of the world's militaries COMBINED - is adding to their military arsenal, equipment that is far ahead of their nearest competitors, on a scale that is unmatched anywhere on the globe.

    The US Navy will be adding to its Pacific fleet, vessels (eg USS Zumwalt, USS Gerald R. Ford, Arleigh Burke class flight iii) that are decades ahead of what the PLAN is currently updating their 80's era equipment with.

    Why do the US and its allies have the exclusive right to maintain military superiority over the rest of the world?
    Is this another example of American "exceptionalsim"?

    China has zero to benefit from any armed conflict in the Pacific region, even conflicts not involving China directly like the Korean dilemma. And because their primacy (or status quo as they call it) would be preserved forever, only the States and Japan would benefit from any kind of war with China; assuming it didn't go nuclear.

    Why do I bother discussing this with you anyway? You're a man of double-"standards". Even presented with the barebone facts, China will always be the "aggressor" in your view.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2013
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  11. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    For a starter, it is to dominated the Asia Pacific Region, and later become a superpower.

    Obviously, China is not arming itself, as if its weapons and weapons platforms, as if it were jewellery adorning a woman's figure and make it attractive.

    Indeed, US, Britain, France, Russia are also arming themselves, but not at the rapid rate as China, nor are they claiming territory to includes sea space and islands and aggressively contesting and even occupying the same. The intent is what acts as the harbinger of things to come and is a major indicator of arming rapidly and flexing the muscle, Others that you mention have not done so.

    The US was a major power, continues to be a major power and hence adds to her arsenal. It is not as if that makes it endearing to all. In fact, during the Cold War, many nations did not favour the US' role in the world. It was only after the cold war, with globalisation, there was an attitudinal change around the world from socialism to market driven economy and a lowering of the US aggressive posturing that it became acceptable to large majority of the world community. Even so, not all teh US' action finds support from the world community.

    The issue that has to be noted is that the US is not 'capturing' areas that are not hers, unlike China, which is claiming practically any land or sea it can see around her periphery. That is the difference why US appears more benign than China.

    To be frank, China is tolerated because of her cheap goods including machinery, which allows developing Nations, the initially bang for the bucks, till it is soon found out that there is more bang and whole lot of lost bucks!

    The US Navy will be adding on to its Pacific Fleet. Had it not been for China's aggressive actions in the SCS, the Asia Pacific Rim Nations would not have taken to this kindly. There sure would have been rumblings.

    But with the aggressive intent exhibited by China, the US appears to have taken the form of St Saint Eustace patron of those facing adversity. Hence, none would complain if the US adds to the muscle to ensure that China is kept in its place and peaceable around the parts.

    US and allies do not have the exclusive right to "maintain military superiority over the rest of the world". However, none feel that they are a threat to their territorial integrity since they have hardly exhibited, as you state, 'expansionism'.

    I don't think it would be correct of you to state that China would have 'zero benefit' from any conflict. What has been happening in the SCS and who has benefited so far?

    I have no 'double standard'. It is single minded persuasion to debunk pith, mushy, pretentious piety that China shovels out all the time to misconstrue that that 'sugar coating' is not sugar, but poor quality saccharine!
     

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