The escalating boldness and sway of Beijing in the surrounding area has made several nations, including the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan, increasingly apprehensive.
In Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Chinese President Xi Jinping participated in a session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) on March 7, 2023. The Associated Press captured the momentous occasion.
During the commencement of China’s rubber-stamped legislative assembly, outgoing Premier Li Keqiang disclosed a surge in the nation’s military budget. Citing mounting security threats from foreign entities, Beijing will now allocate approximately $225 billion, €213 billion (1.55 trillion yuan) on its military for the year — an escalation of 7.2 percent and the fastest increase since 2019. Li emphasized the need for the military to intensify combat-ready training, and reinforce military operations across all realms.
Despite allocating over $800 billion for its military in the current year, China’s defense spending is still comparatively lower than that of United States. However, according to Western analysts, the officially declared sums do not reflect the actual amount that Beijing spends on defense; which is believed to be significantly higher.
According to Drew Thompson, a China specialist at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, China has been undertaking a thorough military modernization and expansion initiative since 2000. Thompson asserts that the People’s Liberation Army’s budget increase is consistent with the pattern observed over the last two decades.
According to Tzu-Yun Su, an analyst at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research, China’s proposed military expenditure indicates its ambition to transition from a terrestrial force to a naval force.
As per his statement, the initial phase of Beijing’s military expansion will encompass the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the South China Sea.
The expert predicted, “China’s focus will shift towards the ‘second island chain’ in its quest for greater influence over the power balance.” This chain includes Japan’s islands that extend to Guam, as well as the Micronesian islands.
Heightened perception of threat.
An augmentation of defense spending has emerged in response to the escalating geopolitical tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.
Countries such as Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines have grown increasingly apprehensive of Beijing’s surging assertiveness and sway in the area. This heightened perception of a regional security threat has spurred them to concentrate on bolstering their defense readiness and to augment military expenditures.
As a military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China raged on, citizens of Beijing proudly waved Chinese flags while clutching their mobile phones. A striking image of solidarity, the moment was captured in a Reuters file photo.
As an example, Japan has recently declared its highest-ever military expenditure of 6.82 trillion yen ($51.7 billion, €49 billion) for the upcoming year. This marks a considerable 26% increase from the previous year’s budget.
The largest military expansion since the end of World War II was introduced by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration, signifying a remarkable departure from seven decades of pacifist policies.
As part of the military overhaul, Tokyo intends to increase its defense spending to 2% of the GDP, doubling its current expenditure. Additionally, the purchase of missiles capable of targeting both ships and land-based objectives up to 1,000 km away is also in the works.
Navigating the Relationship between the United States and China
While South Korea is growing increasingly concerned about China’s military capabilities, its most immediate and urgent security concern is centered around North Korea.
In Bali, Indonesia, on November 14, 2022, during the G20 summit, US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines. A photograph showed the two leaders standing together. (AP)
In recent months, Pyongyang has intensified its aggressive tactics, with an unprecedented surge in missile launches recorded last year.
The complexities of the Korean Peninsula exacerbate the need for South Korea’s heightened awareness of China’s potential threat. A project assistant professor at the University of Tokyo’s Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi, highlights how China’s involvement in the North could bring complications in a contingency. However, Seoul remains hesitant to be drawn into the power play between Beijing and Washington.
The Republic of Korea maintains firm security bonds with the United States, while China takes the lead as its primary trade partner. This presents a delicate diplomatic balancing act for Seoul, as it strives to foster positive relations with both Beijing and Washington.
President Yoon Suk-yeol’s administration has disclosed plans to boost military expenditure, with the majority of the latest hardware aimed at tackling the dangers presented by North Korea.
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In response to China’s growing influence, Seoul is actively pursuing the bolstering of its security alliances. Recently, South Korea reached an agreement to resolve longstanding grievances with Japan over Tokyo’s oppressive reign from 1910 to 1945. This has been viewed as a strategic move to improve defense ties between the two nations.
Associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, Leif-Eric Easley, notes that China’s aggressive foreign policy and growing military expenditures are catalyzing improved strategic relations between South Korea and Japan.
The Yoon administration’s recent agreement with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Japanese government embodies a desire for mutual reconciliation and regional security cooperation. The understanding signifies a shared pledge to prevent historical conflicts from obstructing urgent collaboration.
He stated, “The support extended by Washington to its Asian allies is vital for the trilateral cooperation aimed towards tackling the challenges emanating from North Korea and China.” He further added, “However, the ability of Seoul and Tokyo’s leaders to accomplish their internal political obligations and ensure the durability of their international coordination is a crucial aspect that remains unresolved.”
Understanding Taiwan’s Source of Anxiety
Taiwan is apprehensive about Beijing’s surging military capabilities. China regards Taiwan as its own territory and has pledged to subject it to its authority.
The United States’ high-ranking officials have repeatedly cautioned that China might launch an invasion of the democratic, self-governed island in the next few years. They have highlighted Beijing’s progressively forceful military activities in the Taiwan Strait as evidence.
Tzu-Yun Su, an analyst, reports that China’s military budget for 2023 is more than eleven times greater than that of Taiwan’s. This stark contrast exerts immense financial strain on the territory.
“Considering that China has five distinct combat regions, its military resources are bound to be more widely dispersed,” he observed.
He appealed to Taiwan to adopt the “asymmetric warfare” strategy in full, a tactic that even US officials have encouraged Taipei to employ.
Su emphasized that should Taiwan concentrate its investments on anti-ship and air defense missiles, it would significantly enhance its ability to counterbalance China’s military strength in terms of ammunition and personnel numbers.
Enhancing the USA’s Security Alliances
There has been a noticeable escalation in tensions between the Philippines and China in the past few months.
The Philippines have lodged numerous allegations against China’s actions in the South China Sea. Among these claims is the accusation that a Chinese ship employed a “military-grade laser” on a Philippine patrol boat in the contentious region.
Captured on February 6, 2023, in the midst of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, is an image of a Chinese coast guard vessel emitting a military-grade laser beam. The beam’s green hue is clearly visible in the photo, which was made available through the Philippine Coast Guard’s media portal.
Although China asserts its authority over the sea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei have overlapping claims to various parts of the water body.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines is resolute in his commitment to retaining every inch of his country’s territory. In pursuit of this goal, his administration has bolstered the military alliance between Manila and Washington, enabling US troops to access four additional military bases in Southeast Asia, and resuming joint patrols in the South China Sea.
According to INDSR specialist Su, there is a shared apprehension about China’s increasing aggression and self-assurance. This could lead countries in the region to contemplate the creation of a “maritime NATO” in response.
The Indo-Pacific region’s security collaboration revolves around the US, with a focus on boosting bilateral military partnerships. Recent months have seen Washington double down on diplomatic ties with nations like Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. This is a vital step in balancing power dynamics in the region and a countermeasure to China’s increasing maritime influence.