Call it another win for President Obama’s “smart diplomacy”—China is ramping up military spending, worrying the neighbors, including American allies, who have been largely left to fend for themselves as the Obama Administration plods along with its “pivot to Asia.” Even as the United States attempts to shrink the military and make it more “versatile” and “agile”, China is moving in the opposite direction. China’s soldiers, in the words of a foreign ministry spokesman, shouldn’t be considered “boy scouts with spears.”China’s new budget is still lower than America’s ($526.8 billion in 2014). The United States is trying to make defense spending more efficient while maintaining the military’s ability to combat threats, just with less money than in years past. Senator John McCain was quick to sarcastically deride the 2014 budget: “I must say your timing is exquisite,” he told Secretary Hagel. “Coming over here with a budget when the world is probably more unsettled since the end of World War II. The invasion of Crimea, Iran negotiations collapsed, China more aggressive in the South China Sea, North Korea fired more missiles in the last few days, Syria turning into a regional conflict.”China’s increased military spending is worrying other countries in the region. It will be the biggest increase in three years for Beijing, Reuters reports:
The increase follows a nearly unbroken run of double-digit hikes in the Chinese defense budget, second only to the United States in size, for the past two decades….Speaking at the opening of China’s annual session of parliament, Premier Li Keqiang said the government would “strengthen research on national defense and the development of new- and high-technology weapons and equipment” and “enhance border, coastal and air defenses”.“We will comprehensively enhance the revolutionary nature of the Chinese armed forces, further modernize them and upgrade their performance, and continue to raise their deterrence and combat capabilities in the information age,” Li told the largely rubber-stamp National People’s Congress.
Shortly after the announcement was made, officials in Japan and Taiwan expressed “disquiet.” Experts estimate that China’s real spending on military affairs, including secret outlays, is closer to $200 billion. (The official figure is $131.57 billion.)With the United States making cuts to the military’s manpower and equipment and the pivot to Asia turning out to be more hope than change, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe doesn’t seem inclined to wait around. Many people in Japan feel that its military is losing its technical advantage over the Chinese. In January Abe announced an increase in defense spending for the first time in 11 years. India, the Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam, and others in Asia are becoming increasingly worried about China’s growing military and are snapping up their own new aircraft, submarines, and aircraft carriers. If President Obama thought that making the United States more inward-focused would encourage countries in Asia to pursue peace and regional stability on their own, he ought to take a look at the arms race taking place across the region at a frantic pace.