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China's dangerous maritime expansion
Publication Date : 07-03-2013
China, which has trumpeted its desire to become a maritime power, has been rapidly expanding its military might.
If Xi Jinping's administration wants to dispel the "China threat theory" being increasingly espoused by neighboring countries, it should commit itself to making its military power more transparent and actively engage in confidence-building steps.
At the National People's Congress, or parliament, that convened Tuesday, China unveilled a 10.7 per cent year-on-year increase in defence spending in the 2013 national budget to about 740.6 billion yuan (US$118 billion). This is about 2.4 times the size of Japan's defence budget.
China's defence budget has logged double-digit increases for more than 20 consecutive years, excluding 2010, when the global recession buffeted that country. Its actual military expenditure remains unclear because the disclosed figure does not include money earmarked for weapon research and development, for example.
China should fully disclose the breakdown of its defence budget and plans to introduce military equipment.
China's military expansion policy, which is behind the substantial rise in defence spending, also is a destabilising factor that could trigger military expansion in neighbouring nations, including India.
Senkakus need vigilance
The Xi administration probably will appropriate this budget predominantly to projects reinforcing China's navy and air force so it can encircle the East China Sea and the South China Sea as "China's Sea," to counter the US strategy that places greater emphasis on Asia.
China's military has been accelerating development of its own stealth fighter jet and construction of domestic aircraft carriers and new frigates. It reportedly has conducted about 40 exercises this year.
This year's government work report delivered at the National People's Congress stressed that China will protect its maritime interests. The Chinese Navy and State Oceanic Administration have confirmed they will strengthen their cooperation.
There is the possibility that Chinese surveillance ships, with assistance from the navy, could take a more hard-line stance around the Senkaku Islands. Chinese vessels might seize Japanese fishing boats or apprehend their crew members. Japanese authorities must step up their vigilance.
More provocations possible
Automatic spending cuts that have started in the United States could restrict US military operations in the western Pacific. Given the circumstances, there are concerns the Chinese Navy may instigate a provocation similar to the incident this year in which a Chinese frigate locked its fire-control radar on a Maritime Self-Defence Force vessel.
China should try to build trust with Japan by resuming talks on establishing a bilateral system for emergency communications at sea. Tokyo must enhance the deterrence of the Japan-US alliance and do everything in its power to defend the Senkaku Islands.
Dealing with environmental problems is an urgent task for the Xi administration. Serious air pollution in China has exposed the limits of Beijing's policy of focusing on economic growth above all else. We think China should also appropriate more of its budget to expanding the social security system in preparation for the costs that will come with its rapidly graying population.
Meanwhile, China's domestic security budget exceeds the defence budget. This indicates that the Chinese government believes it has no choice but to flex strong state power to deal with disturbances that frequently erupt across that country.
Stimulating a sense of national greatness among Chinese people by military expansion, thereby diverting domestic frustrations to external elements, is a dangerous game.