US Congress Report Warns American Interests at Risk in China’s Military Rise
Basic American interests are at stake in the Asia-Pacific as the regional military balance tilts in China’s favour, a US Congress report has warned.
In its annual report submitted to Congress on Thursday, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said China had made big gains in military development, driven by two decades of double-digit increases in its defence spending.
“As a result of China’s comprehensive and rapid military modernisation, the regional balance of power between China, on the one hand, and the United States and its allies and associates on the other, is shifting in China’s direction,” it said.
But, in an apparent effort to defend China’s military progress, defence minister Chang Wanquan told a regional security forum in Beijing that China needed to modernise its armed forces to adapt to a changing global security environment.
The commission’s report said the Sino-US security relationship mostly deteriorated this year, with persistent territorial disputes between China and US treaty allies Japan and the Philippines.
Chinese military aircraft and ships also confronted US military aircraft and vessels “on several occasions since late last year”, the report said.
Tao Wenzhao, a senior fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of American Studies, said that while China still lagged far behind the United States in many areas in the military, its pace of progress had outpaced that of the US in recent years and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Benjamin Herscovitch, a research fellow with the Australia-based Centre for Independent Studies, said underlying economic trends meant that the US’ military dominance in the Western Pacific would end before 2050. But China’s military rise was not necessarily a threat to US interests.
“Beijing wants to gain control of contested territory but this is at most a threat to the interests of US allies and partners and not the United States itself,” he said.
Herscovitch said it remained to be seen whether China would pose a sustained challenge to US interests in the region like freedom of navigation.
In a keynote speech to the Xiangshan Forum, a regional security meeting organised by the defence ministry, Chang acknowledged that China’s military overhaul had caused some jitters in the region. But he also outlined what he said were the five main reasons behind Beijing’s determination to speed up its modernisation programme.
Chang said the first reason was the Chinese leadership’s “deep reflection of the country’s bitter suffering in modern history”, an apparent reference to repeated invasions of China since the opium war in 1840.
He said the modernisation programme was also driven by China’s need to safeguard its vast territory to meet the challenges posed by the world’s “new military revolution” and to meet the challenges from “non-traditional threats” to national security.
The “non-traditional threats” was a reference to what the authorities call the “three hostile forces” of terrorism, extremism and separatism.
The Xiangshan Forum has been held every two years since 2006 and focuses on security in the Asia-Pacific region. It will become an annual event after this year.