ABC Radio National Australian Broadcasting Corporation 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. '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 coach outlet atlanta kia to it, or because they're part of coach outlet purses with flowers 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 coach bags outlet store 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 coach outlet quilted jacket 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 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.
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