China’s military might is nothing to scoff at. Estimates put its annual military budget at around 160 billion dollars. While their expenditures are less than a quarter of what the United States spends every year, their military development continues to grow, and if recent trends continue could reach US expenditures by 2050.
With nearly 3.2 million on active duty, China has the largest reserve of soldiers in the world. In spite of arms embargoes against China following the Tiananmen Massacre, China has managed to purchase huge stockpiles of high-tech weapons from Russia over the years. Of greater concern to the US is its strategic moves to ward off potential American intervention in the Taiwanese strait, the only thing separating Mainland China from the island of Taiwan.
While Taiwan was historically a part of China, it has retained its sovereignty since the Republic of China fled there in 1949. Chinese leaders have vowed military action should Taiwan declare formal independence from China, reiterated in the Taiwan Anti-Secession Law passed in 2005.
Taiwan is not the only country that Mainland China has in its crosshairs. Territorial disputes with Japan persist to this day. After centuries of abuse at the hands of Japan, China is eager to exact vengeance with its dominant military. The People’s Liberation Army alludes to this sentiment, saying, “active defence is the essential feature of China’s military strategy…if an enemy offends our national interests it means that the enemy has already fired the first shot [and we must do all we can] to dominate the enemy by striking first.”
While the United States has remained ambiguous about how it would respond to an attack on Japan or China, it is clear given its past intervention in the region that it would intercede in both situations. Clearly the US would have the absolute advantage with both unparalleled military technology, experience, and support from most OECD and Asian nations. That being said it is difficult to quantify the strategic advantages that China has due to its home-field advantage and recent technological buildup.
Many question the likelihood of China initiating a war citing the inevitable economic malaise and world-wide disapproval that would accompany such a move. While this is a very valid point, as China’s economy faces the inevitability of stagnation in the decades to come and its citizenry begin to demand political reforms and democratization, it is within the realm of possibility that the Communist Party would pursue an international conflict to drum up nationalist sentiment and shift attention away from political failures. One can only hope that the seven men who control China’s political, economic, and military sectors have the common sense to spare themselves and the world from irreparable destruction.