Wednesday, March 07, 2007

US Policy against China’s Military Build-up

China announced 17.8% increase in defense spending this Sunday. This is the largest military budget surge in five years, which raises serious concern among American policymakers. According to “Beijing Increases Defense Spending” in the International Herald Tribune on March 4, a Chinese official says "We must increase our military budget, as it is important to national security," and the Chinese "military must modernize. Our overall defenses are weak." Most defense analysts do not take this message as it is. They see China explores dominance over the Taiwan Strait, and try to deter US intervention in Sino-Taiwan conflicts. Some foreign military experts estimate that China spend three times more on arms expansion than the official figure.

US officials are alarmed to see Chinese ambitious pursuit for power. Vice President Dick Cheney denounces Chinese anti-satellite missile test, as it is inconsistent with China’s stated goal of peaceful rise. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte demanded that China be more open about its military build-up.

Prior to this announcement, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace held an event, entitled “Reframing China Policy Debate 3: The Implications of China's Military Modernization” to discuss Chinese military expansion and its implication to global security on February 6. The following opinion leaders participated in this panel discussion.

Larry M. Woltzel: Commissioner on the US-China Economic Security Review Commission

David M. Finkelstein: Director of "Project Asia" & the China Studies Center at the CNA Corporation

J. Stapleton Roy: Former Ambassador to China

And moderated by
Michael D. Swaine: Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

At the beginning of this discussion, Former Ambassador Stapleton Roy mentioned China’s military growth is in parallel with its economic growth. Also, he said that if US-Chinese relations were cooperative, a stronger China would be helpful for US effort to promote world peace, stability, and economic development. On the other hand, if US-Chinese relations are confrontational, a stronger China will undercut US national interests. A former ambassador in Beijing and born in China, Roy points out that China has in armed conflicts with Japan, the United States, Korea, India, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam, and insists that Americans need to understand these historical contexts to evaluate Chinese behavior.

Considering these aspects, Stapleton Roy asks the following critical questions regarding Chinese defense spending and military build-up.

(1) Americans say China spends too much on defense, but how much is enough?
(2) Americans criticize China spends too much on defense, but its military expenditure is about 50% of those in Britain, Germany, France, and Italy.
(3) Americans tend to assume Chinese are eager to confront with the United States, but do they sacrifice their economic development?

Having asked the above questions, Roy set agenda for this event: “China is actively preparing for potential military conflict scenarios with the United States, and we have to understand what’s going on, and that’s the purpose of today’s debate.”

In order to assess whether Chinese military modernization is a threat to the United States and Asia, Larry Woltzel and David Finkelstein discussed military capabilities and intentions of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army). Both experts presented their viewpoints at first.

Larry Woltzel insists that China is not an enemy to the United States, although its regime is authoritarian and it counters US diplomacy. He argues that both China and the United States share interests in economy and peace. However, China is at odds with the United States, regarding human rights and global security.

Although China’s military intention is not clear, Woltzel says it pursues dominant position over the Taiwan Strait and in the Western Pacific region. He says China is capable of achieving this objective. China’s state of the art technologies, like strategic missile, anti-satellite missile, and so forth, target US military power. Woltzel insists that the United States be well prepared for curbing Chinese ambitions.

Then, David Finkelstein presents his analysis on transformation of the PLA: from ground-forces-centric and manpower dependent one to equal emphasis on naval and air power and high-tech dependent one. Finkelstein points out that the Chinese authority was shocked to see spectacular US victory in the Gulf War in 1991. This is the reason why the PLA has begun to modernize itself for the Information Age.

China no longer faces land threats from the Soviet Union, and it needs to invest more resources to protect the sea-lane to import oil. Like Woltzel, Finkelstein comments that China is not willing to confront the United States, but aiming at becoming a leading military power in East Asia and countering Japan and India.

As to the question whether Chinese military spending is excessive or not, both expert mentioned rapid progress in Chinese arms technology, which would be able to attack US aircraft carrier battle groups. The moderator asked a simple question whether China intends to eject US influence from the Western Pacific. Both commentators said China is not willing to fight with the United States, but it wants to establish its own sphere of influence in its neighborhood on land and in the sea. In addition, they talked about challenges posed by the Sino-Russian military partnership to US supremacy. Russian military assistance promotes PLA modernization furthermore.

In conclusion, it is unclearness of intention that raises serious concern on rapid Chinese military expansion among Washington policy makers.

For detail, you can see the video on Windows and Real Player, and listen to the discussion with i-Pod.