By Felix K. Chang, Senior Fellow Foreign Policy Research Institute
Reviewed by John Sylvester
China has drastically reduced the size of its Maoist conscript army in favor of building modern armed forces with emphasis on air, rocket, and naval capabilities. Mr. Chang states one trigger for Beijing’s new military policies was its failure to inhibit the American intervention as China attempted to intimidate Taiwan with the threat of rocket attacks in 1995-96. Although China’s new weaponry still depends in part on Russian and Ukrainian technology, its weapons and forces are greatly improved, and its defense budget has become impressively large.
This, of course, worries all of China’s neighbors. For a long stretch their military budgets stalled. Mr. Chang notes how this has changed. India has put more divisions onto its mountain border with China. Japan has strengthened its Self Defense Forces, an example being new “helicopter destroyers” that look oddly like amphibious assault ships. The Philippines are shopping for missile frigates. Thailand has even built an aircraft carrier of its own, though it largely sits in port.
Mr. Chang says there are assorted reasons for domestic military buildups, including buying off military loyalty, favoring domestic industry, and even expanding capacity for disaster relief. The main reasons, however, are just defense and the hope for stability through balance of power vis-à-vis China.
Commenting on the tensions in our bilateral relations in East Asia, he states: “On the one hand, if American security guarantees are too firm, then its security partners could embroil the United States in an unwanted conflict. On the other hand, if American security guarantees are too weak, then its security partners could decide their interests might be better served by currying favor with China.” So far that is not happening as our Asian friends now seem willing to carry more of the military burden.
His pessimistic last thought, however, is that, “if China’s military power continues to grow relative to that of its neighbors, then one can expect more confrontations to come—no matter the quantities of arms amassed.”