Talk of defence budget 'threat' cuts both ways

'SIMPLISTIC ARGUMENT': Soldiers from China's People's Liberation Army marching in Tiananmen Square ahead of the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference on March 3. If the logic that China's rising defence spending indicates that the country poses a threat to the US, the reverse applies, too.


    Mar 17, 2015

    Talk of defence budget 'threat' cuts both ways

    IN ITS recent report, the Heritage Foundation has used a new index system to gauge the level of threat the United States faces in different parts of the world and to determine its preparedness for common defence with its allies.

    The report, entitled Assessing America's Ability To Provide For The Common Defence, says that in Asia, despite the moderate overall security environment, three threats exist: terrorism (Afghanistan and Pakistan), China and North Korea. It also says that all these threats "are ranked behaviourally as aggressive".

    China is assessed to be threatening because its rising capability continues to "present the US with the most comprehensive security challenge in the region". In the context of rising capability, China's growing defence budget is helping it modernise its military.


    If the logic that China's rising defence spending indicates that it poses a threat to the US, the simplistic argument should apply to the US, too. Going by this logic, the US - whose military budget is equal to the combined total of the next 14 countries' budgets - poses the greatest threat to the world.

    A threat involves both capability and intention. A country without sufficient capability hardly poses a significant threat to another; neither does one without aggressive intent. With this in mind, a proper comparison between China and the US is necessary.

    Though China has the second-largest defence budget globally, the US spends about four times that of China on defence.

    While blaming China for a lack of transparency, the US has always appropriated extra defence resources beyond the Pentagon's request. In aggregate terms, the US' defence expenditure has been tens of times more than China's over the past decades. So China has more than enough reason to try and catch up with the US when more resources become available.


    More importantly, China has its own assessment of security threats, which are not limited to the US' spending spree. Apparently, Beijing feels threatened from some of Washington's allies too.

    While the US accepts the one-China policy, it continues selling weapons to Taiwan, threatening Chinese interests. Besides, after "reverting" the jurisdiction of China's Diaoyu Islands to Japan in 1972, the US declared last year that it would back Tokyo in the dispute against Beijing in the name of common defence, further challenging China's sovereignty.

    After occupying Iraq for eight years, the US withdrew its troops without apologising or compensating for the mess it has created in that country, let alone bringing to justice those who launched and engineered this massive humanitarian disaster. This US act has caused more damage in Iraq, including the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, than any Iraqi government possibly could.

    True, the US has not always been a threat to the world. The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago made complete sense, given the then aggressive Japanese empire. But the US is now appeasing Japan which, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is hell-bent on whitewashing its war crimes.

    Washington's shortsightedness can only change its common defence agreement with Tokyo for offensive end, and thus push Beijing to hedge more seriously so long as the situation warrants.

    Therefore, what the US should do is not point an accusing finger at China, but truly promote Sino-US ties by reflecting on itself and its allies. Only when a new type of major country relationship is built up can world peace be better safeguarded.


    The writer is professor and associate dean of the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University.