Monday, March 11, 2013

(Politics) China Military and Energy Spending: A Cause for Concern?

Much has been made of China apparent rise and the factors, consequences and potential outcomes possible attached to its growth, but so far, much of it has been negative and with the rate that China is expanding it’s military capabilities and importing oil, pessimists towards China’s growth as a international player have a solid argument as to why the glass is half empty.

While China may be in a region where it is next door neighbor is a nuclear police state in North Korea and is less than pally with it’s even less than favorite neighbor in Japan, It safe to say that China are increasing their military prowess at a alarming pace with its navy “now second in size only to the US in terms of raw numbers”[1].  This is possible thanks to massive spikes in China’s defense budget with it’s leadership revealing a massive 11.2 percent boost in 2012 alone following “a long term trend of double digit percentage increases in annual spending” [2].

While it might not entirely clear just how much China is spending to build up its military power, according to Pentagon estimates, Security has no price in Bejing as spending could be “between $120 billion and $180 billion”[3]. While China massive defense spending hikes would send a shiver down any  neighboring nation's spine, China’s less than cordial behavior towards it’s  neighbors  does nothing to ease the real fears of how China will act when it completes it’s ascent to become the world’s foremost superpower.

China has been super assertive towards it’s neighbours, particularly Japan, over small disputed islands  which both sides claim to be theirs to the point that both sides have already named the island as China has named lands (currently in dispute with Japan) in the East China Sea ‘Diaoyu’ while Japan refer to the lands as ‘Senkaku’[4]. China, none to shy asserting itself, has land disputes with regional neighbours “Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia, over territory in the South China Sea”[5]

While you may now be thinking why China would kick up such a fuss in its region over  minuscule islands you would struggle to locate with Google Earth ,  the fact that the islands are, wait for it, “resource-rich” may ease your  search for an answer. China are also trying out it’s naval power in the form of “patrols and exercises” in these “contested waters” because China will eventually seek to make the islands theirs and there will be little it’s neighbours can do about it.

The news of China surpassing Uncle Sam in oil imports may have come as a shock to most due to the US’s well documented reliance on middle east oil and the even better documented foreign policy implications of relying on oil from the Middle East, but it shouldn’t have to a shock to anybody.

China has a big oil demand due to it’s population size and a slowed but still growing economy but maybe  the  concern of China becoming the world’s foremost buyer of oil was over the historical  need for oil for nations to fight sustained wars. While there is no indication that China is looking for a military confrontation with anybody, when a nation buys oil at a rate China is, the political classes of all countries involved watch closely with trepidation as there is only two real reasons for such an influx, a growing economy with a big oil demand or the preparation and possible execution of sustained military campaign.

China’s oil buying, defence spending and it’s new assertiveness in the region has a number of nations spooked, especially Japan.  Japan uneasiness over China’s growth as a military threat had made Japan increase  it’s own defence budget increase (it’s first in over a decade) by a meagre (in comparison to China’s at least) 0.8 percent and its “coast guard budget” by 1.9 percent “ in response to  China’s “incursions”[6]. It might have been more but Japan are in no position to assert itself against China as Japan is hamstrung by it inability to “service  record debt “ and a “decades old informal military spending limit of 1 percent of gross domestic product”[7].

China’s other neighbour, India are also less than comfortable with it’s  rise signalled  by it’s recent nuclear show of force and an increase of its defence budget to the tune of  $37.7 billion[8] . Both India and Japan have sought to establish stronger ties with each other with Japan  being “the largest donor of official development aid to India” [9].

Both nations, encouraged by the US especially and more importantly, have been long looking to contain the rise of China with a conspicuous increase in trade between the countries as trade between India and Japan was only $6.5 billion in 2005 but jumped to $18.5 billion just six years later[10]. However, all this minor positioning and balancing on the part of China’s regional rivals is the work of  the United States, who see China as a threat to it’s previously unparalleled global dominance.

In Sum, China rise in military and economic might was always going to scare neighbours and concern rival but the pace over the thirty has been phenomenal  and now we are only now starting to see how the world responds to what now looks like  China are looking to assert themselves more as nation of their size and stature has, and as China’s political leadership might argue, should.

[1] D. Lague and T.Y. Jones, 2013, China Defence spending seen rising as territorial rows deepen,
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid
[6] I. Reynolds, 2013, Japan Defense Budget to Increase for First Time in 11 Years,
[7] Ibid
[8] S. Choudhury, 2013, India Increase Defense Budget to $37.7 billion,
[9] T. Kitazume, 2013, Japan urged to help build India’s Infrastructure,                                                                               
[10] Ibid

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