Modern missile-firing submarines are part of China's increasing naval capability. / China Daily
While chickenhawks beat the drums for war with Iran, garnering headlines and guest shots on Sunday-morning talk shows, China is making moves that warrant attention and reasonable concern.
Having tamped 6.5 percent inflation down to a more comfortable 3.1 percent over the last year, China is reducing its economic-growth target to 7.5 percent to keep inflation in check, which makes sense.
But China’s continuing military spending increases — reportedly 11.2 percent, to $105 billion in the latest announcement — are harder to fathom. What’s more, the government’s figure is likely being understated.
. . . China analysts said the true figure was probably significantly higher and was underreported because much of the military’s decision-making is kept opaque.
So, China continues to beef up its military in the face of reduced future revenues due to somewhat slower growth and despite racking up the biggest trade deficit with the U.S. and European Union in a decade.
China’s trade balance plunged $31.5 billion into the red in February as imports swamped exports to leave the largest deficit in at least a decade and fuel doubts about the extent to which frail foreign demand or seasonal distortion drove the drop.
Import growth of 39.6 percent on the year in February was the strongest in a year, well ahead of the 27 percent expected and more than twice the rate of export growth of 18.4 percent that was barely more than half the pace forecast — albeit at a six month high.
What we would like to know about China’s decade-long military buildup is, why?
These soldiers serve in the world's largest standing army. / Chad J. McNeeley, DoD
China has the world’s largest standing army, estimated at 4.59 million troops, with a replenishment capability that can’t be matched anywhere. A member of the nuclear-arms club for 48 years, China has advanced missiles, space satellites, a modern air force and considerable, and growing, naval capability.
While it’s true that even with the latest increase, if you go by the official figure, China’s military budget is only about one-fifth of the $5.5 billion U.S. military budget, the trend is still cause for concern.
China’s government explains its military spending generically, citing the need to protect its sovereignty. That begs the question, from whom?
China seemingly has no natural enemies even remotely likely to challenge its sovereignty. Since its 1949 inception, the People’s Republic of China has fought a surreptitious campaign in Korea, and openly battled at various times in the years since along its borders with India, the Soviet Union and Tibet. China has at times menaced Taiwan and occupies Tibet, considering both provinces. China has otherwise refrained from military expansionism.
To maintain social stability and the economic growth that requires, China needs to raise the general level of wages and make very large infrastructure investments — seemingly better uses for its extra billions being spent on a military buildup. So again, why?
The only reasons we can come up with are both troubling.
One is to enhance China’s ability to deal forcefully with civil/political unrest, should the government fail to keep up with rising expectations in its 1.3 billion population.
The other reason is an expectation of future resource wars, especially for the fossil-fuels China heavily depends on.
If anyone has additional or better ideas, feel free to weigh in.
China’s continuing military buildup raises one other question we’d like to know the answer to: Given the PRC’s far greater size and strength, why do U.S. news media persist in flogging the relatively minor potential threat posed by Iran, while all but burying news about, and rarely commenting on, what China is up to?