Editorial Notes

China threat overhyped?: The Statesman

The paper reviews Pentagon’s assessment of the threat posed by China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Bali on Nov 14. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - Is the China threat being overhyped by Washington? That is the question being debated after the release last week of the Pentagon’s annual report on Chinese military and security developments.

Coming as it does after the unveiling of the USA’s National Security Strategy, National Defence Strategy, NuclearPosture Review, and Missile Defence Strategy in November ~ all of which emphasised China ~ the annual report was expected to provide granular details on the military capacity and security strategy of the world’s rising power.

It did not disappoint on that count. But the conclusions it seems to have arrived at regarding Beijing’s military prowess and intentions, say some experts, may have been a tad overdone.

Indeed, according to veteran foreign policy expert Michael E. O’Hanlon, “we are tending towards overhyping the China threat in a way that could raise the risks of war.”

Neither Hanlon nor others of his persuasion deny that China is the main security challenge for the US-led Western world order.

The criticism, however, is that Washington is missing the woods for the trees when it comes China.

In Western capitals, the Pentagon report is in the main being characterised as correctly critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, focussing especially on the joint statement on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February which declared that the China-Russia relationship “knows no bounds”.

But, as Hanlon points out, the relationship does in fact have bounds ~ and very important ones at that.

Till date, for example, China has not sent weaponry to Russia during the Ukraine war despite Mr Putin’s repeated requests that it do so.

This is a significant military-security decision by Beijing which provides an insight into its strategic thinking, but the Pentagon report elides the issue.

Even China’s military budget, which has continued to grow at a rate of seven per cent annually, is, however, less than two per cent of its GDP, which is the level member-states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) are encouraged by Washington itself to aim for.

America’s own military budget, incidentally, is in more than three per cent of its GDP.

Coming to the defence of the Pentagon report are many who take the view that when it comes to China, too much nuance is unnecessary and may prove counter-productive.

This approach stems partly from ideological opposition to communism, but it is also a manifestation of the belief that there is an inherent danger of equalisation ~ when there can be none ~ between a totalitarian China and the democratic West.

In this context, China’s recent military muscle-flexing in the region it considers its sphere of influence, from the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, to missile launches near Taiwan, the creation and militarisation of artificial islands in the South China Sea, and the border aggression against India along the Line of Actual Control in the Himalayas, cannot be defined as defensive actions.

Nato, on the other hand, characterises itself albeit somewhat problematically as a defensive alliance.

Whichever side of the debate one is on, the certainty is that China’s rise as a military power is a fait accompli. - THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

  • The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 regional news media titles.

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