China’s military ambitions are fueling an arms procurement race in the Asia-Pacific region, increasing the risk of armed conflict in the region.
At the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, China, the construction of China’s third aircraft carrier has continued throughout 2021. China has made “steady progress” building its third aircraft carrier, according to experts who say it could launch in as little as three months. According to CNN, this is another clear example of China’s rapid military modernization. And this is the trend that pushes the whole region into a competition.
In recent months, rising tensions between Taiwan and Beijing have become the focus of international attention, but the threat of conflict in Asia is even far beyond the Taiwan Strait.
Silent Arm race
Across the region, although experts warn that any miscalculation could lead to conflict in a region already fractured by border disputes and, the countries are quietly racing to avoid being “left behind”.
In East Asia, Japan and South Korea are rapidly modernizing their militaries to deal with threats from China and North Korea. Last month, after South Korea tested a new missile, Pyongyang warned Seoul of “reckless ambition”.
Meanwhile, India’s increase in military spending after clashes with China over the disputed Himalayan border risks increasing tensions with longtime rival Pakistan.
Asia-Pacific countries are stuck in a “security dilemma” – a reference to a geopolitical spiral, said Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. where countries continuously strengthen their military forces to deal with similar moves by other countries.
“Danger” from China
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is rapidly expanding its military capabilities. The PLA Navy is currently the largest navy in the world with advanced stealth fighters and a strong growing nuclear arsenal. And the point here is that the military modernization process has only just begun. Even the military budget is growing every year, possibly more than $200 billion by 2021.
While this is still far below the estimated US$740 billion defense budget of the US in 2022, the PLA is gradually closing the gap in technology with the US Army.
Along with the construction of a third aircraft carrier in Shanghai, the Pentagon said, the PLA recently tested a hypersonic missile. However, China said it was not a rocket but a “normal test of space equipment”.
Not only destabilizing the region by building up a large military force, China also worries other countries through its behavior with strong statements of “warrior” diplomats.
Recently, speaking at the 100th Anniversary of the Communist Party of China in July, President Xi Jinping emphasized that China will no longer be “bullied, oppressed or subdued” and anyone who tries to do so That with Beijing will have to “run headfirst against the great wall of steel”.
Arzan Tarapore, a scholar of South Asian studies at Stanford University, says Beijing’s foreign policy and bellicose approach are causing real concern to neighboring countries:
“This is not only a new blow of ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy but also a willingness to pressure its territorial claims by force.”
No one can sit still?
Since the end of World War II, the United States has been the main guarantor of peace and stability in the region, especially through close security alliances with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.
However, the threat of US withdrawal from the region under former US President Donald Trump, combined with his “America First” policies has eroded confidence in Washington’s involvement in the region. area
Two of the fastest militarizing countries are those closest to China: Japan and South Korea.
Before being elected Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Fumio Kishida promised to double the military budget if elected, marking the first time it would increase to 2% of GDP since World War II.
Experts see the deployment as a deterrent against any move by Beijing against Taiwan. Japan also plans to deploy more missiles to the Okinawa Islands in 2022.
The country has also expanded its military in recent years with the purchase of F-35 fighter jets from the US, along with the improvement of aircraft carriers for the F-35 to take off.
The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) are also looking to add more submarines, destroyers and high-tech stealth fighters to their arsenal.
While North Korea regularly trumpets its missile program, South Korea is rapidly expanding its forces, in part to reduce its dependence on its longtime security partner, the United States. South Korea also plans to have its first aircraft carrier by 2033.
But not every country allied with the United States seeks independence and avoids gradually becoming dependent on Washington.
In a shocking announcement in September, Australia cemented itself closer to Washington by forging a new security alliance with the US and UK in the Indo-Pacific with the AUKUS agreement. This decision clearly shows that Australia is choosing the US over China, changing the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific.
What to do to make Asia-Pacific safer?
Outside of the Taiwan Strait, most experts say, the most dangerous flashpoint in Asia is the border between China and India.
In the most disturbing clash, in June 2020, dozens of soldiers from both countries were killed when conflict broke out in the Galwan valley. And the fact that any move by India to increase its potential could alarm arch-rival Pakistan.
According to researcher Tarapore, Pakistan will do what is necessary to deal with military pressure from India.
In recent years, the US military has been increasing its presence in the Asia-Pacific region, making Beijing restless. And as China builds up more forces in response, so do its neighbors.
As a result, the militarization of the region shows no sign of ending, and most experts say things can accelerate, increasing the risk of miscalculation and conflict.
At present, China still shows no sign of stopping to increase its military potential, and Beijing still believes that the US is the one who started this arms race.
Politicians and experts in the region have compared the current situation to the tension in Europe in the 1930s, just before the outbreak of World War II.