A lot of people in the US are terrified of a stronger China. Though perhaps I’m a touch biased, I’m not much alarmed at the reports today of an increase in excess of 11% in defense spending announced by the Chinese National Peoples’ Congress. Spending for the next year will rise to 670 billion yuan ($106.4 billion). This is the second largest defense budget in the world after that of the United States. Our economy, while about three times larger than that of China, still has a defense budget that’s five to six times larger. And while it may be tempting to engage in the saber rattling sort of rhetoric that characterizes our relations, particularly given the fact that we’re in the midst of an election season, I don’t find it much reason for concern.
First, China’s economy is growing at stratospheric rates. It’s a large country, and with it comes large defense responsibilities. True, it’s embroiled in territorial disputes with some of its neighbors, namely Vietnam, India and Japan, but those are territorial disputes that have been going on since the days of the old Chinese empire. The only difference now is that they involve issues such as oil drilling and fishery rights, issues that were not part of the conflict in years past. The other aspect that we should consider is that having a better armed China would actually benefit the US in certain ways. We have no well defined interest in policing Asia in perpetuity. Should conflict break out in any region of Asia, a stronger China should be well equipped to respond to the challenge, instead of having the reflexive American response to intervene.
And finally, we still have far, far greater military capabilities than China. In absolute terms, we don’t need to worry excessively about a country that’s taking its rightful place amongst the strongest nations of the world. At this time and even more so in the future, avoiding armed conflicts with the West will be high on China’s list of priorities. If anything, continuing to get rich and solve security issues diplomatically would be the best solution for everyone involved, as nobody would likely profit from a war between the two strongest powers on earth. But, then again, that’s seldom stopped international military conflict from spreading before.