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China’s Military – The Real Thing or A Potemkin Village
Back in 1279 AD, during the reign of Kubila Khan, the Chinese were conquered and ruled by foreign powers. China’s first experience with foreign governments left the bad taste of economic colonialism in its mouth. The autonomous regions and concessions that divided China’s sovereignty led to forced trade and opium warfare. Territory was lost and the national treasury depleted to pay war reparations to the victors. Historically, China has been pestered by foreign powers, which exposed its industrial weakness and national vulnerability. Where self-importance once reigned, doubts and a national inferiority complex have crept into the minds of the Chinese.
Today, maintaining the largest standing army of some 2.3 million soldiers (as opposed to America’s 1.4 million) and a relatively reliable nuclear arsenal, China has taken another “giant leap” in modernizing its security forces to counter this national psychosis.
There are two schools of thought regarding China’s regional and global intentions. The first assumes that China has no hegemonic interests—that it has never sought to conquer beyond its borders, and that any interests it may express in this arena relate to regional stability and non-interference, and to deny China any another way or to paint China as a regional/global threat is to make it a regional/global threat. “… [B]Smart politics risks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy – treat China as an enemy and it will become one” (Ross 33).
The second suggests that China has always had in mind revenge for historical grievances and an evil/ungodly determination to eventually dominate the world. Every change it makes in policy, strategic or economic, should be seen with this goal in mind. “… [C]Hina’s willingness, even desire, to improve Sino-American sentiment is a tactical gesture, not a strategic one…Beijing has softened its confrontational rhetoric and backed away from some of the actions that most irritated Washington… “For a relatively long time, it will be absolutely necessary that we quietly nurture his sense of revenge,” wrote General Mi Zhenyu, vice commander of the Academy of Military Sciences in Beijing. “We must hide our abilities and bide our time” (Bernstein/Munroe 20).
To achieve this goal, China has done everything it can to acquire technological advantages that the United States could offer in its military portfolio. To that end, accusations of espionage, questionable, if not illegal, Chinese campaign contributions and a White House fifth column are being heard across the conservative political spectrum. Waving this bloody shirt of political corruption, the opposition party created images of a Manchurian candidate with an inscrutable Chinese as the main character of the diamond queen.
Against this background, various questions arise, and it is difficult to assess China’s military course. For what two purposes is her state compass intended? Is China’s military buildup justified as a regional power or does it have global ambitions? Is China’s military capability in line with its strategic interests and does it represent a threat or legitimate growth? The final answer to these questions would require the dexterity of Houdini and the clairvoyance of Kreskin; however, culling the two positions may reveal assumptions that may lead to reasonable conclusions.
The first hypothesis suggests that China remained within its borders for centuries and never posed a threat to any of its neighbors. The Great Wall, built to prevent the Mongol hordes from entering China, is an example of its defensive position. In addition, China has historically avoided contact with the outside world, not wanting or seeking trade or exploration opportunities on the high seas. The self-centered thinking of China can be emphasized by its name – the Middle Kingdom. Where all roads once led to Rome, China simply saw itself as the center of the world and did not need to leave its shores.
Ironically, as China relished its isolationist stance with no penchant for imperial expansion, it unwittingly opened itself up to foreign devils eager to extend their global tentacles. The Opium War of the 1840s was such an example. The British, suffering from a trade imbalance due to their insatiable appetite for Chinese tea (via their East India Holding Company), attempted to trade opium with the intention of creating such a demand by getting enough people addicted to the easily manufactured substance. for trade; thereby changing the catastrophic trend of trade deficit to an active trade balance. When China banned the British opium drug trade, its inferior junks were no match for Britain’s superior steam-powered frigates, leading to the defeat of the nascent Chinese navy. As punishment, the Chinese were forced to compensate the British for damages in the amount of hundreds of millions of dollars and hand over Hong Kong to England.
In 1860, China lost the Kowloon Peninsula (to the British) and territories north of the Amur River and east of Ussuri (to the Russians). China’s weakness to defend its territory was further exposed by the Japanese in 1895 when the two countries clashed on the Korean Peninsula. The resulting defeat reduced China’s territory even further — through the loss of Taiwan, the Pescadores, and the New Territories. All of this territory was lost during the collapse of the Qing Dynasty from 1644 to 1911.
Irritated by these historical images, China tried to match the military power of its conquerors. The first position promotes China’s military build-up/modernization program as defensive and reasonable, without posing a regional/global threat, especially in the context of past humiliations. This is confirmed by China’s inferior weapons both quantitatively and qualitatively.
“According to various experts’ estimates, the Chinese spend anywhere from $24 billion to $87 billion a year on their military (depending on the complicated ways you calculate it). But if we use one of the more plausible figures of $36 billion, it means that China spends less on its military than Japan, which is a constitutionally pacifist state that is prohibited from maintaining an offensive military.” (Bernstein and Keizer 2) And whether China can pass the quality control test is unknown. Is China’s Military Spending Getting the Biggest Return? “When China conducted missile tests in the Taiwan Strait in 1996 in an attempt to intimidate Taipei. The greatest danger was the obsolescence of ammunition. Robert Ross notes: “The missiles were so primitive that they could deviate from their course and hit Taiwan. Ross adds that China’s most advanced domestically produced fighter, the F8-11, is the equivalent of a late 1960s American military aircraft, and even this primitive aircraft has not yet been fully put into production. more advanced than what the US sells to Taiwan, and far less advanced than what Japan co-produces with the United States for its defense. problems related to poor maintenance … Some believe that China is going to develop an aircraft carrier, but to develop and equip even one vintage aircraft carrier from the 1970s is a decade’s work.” (Bernstein and Keyser 2)
The above quote shows that China is far behind in sophisticated weapons not only relative to Japan, Taiwan, and smaller regional countries in general, but also to the United States in particular. China’s inability to match the world’s leading military know-how exposes its flank to strategic attacks. What is the experience of modern warfare in China? The 20th century presented it with border skirmishes such as India in 1962 and Vietnam in 1979, where it was definitely able to win. What modern military strategies did it use, other than its supposed antiquated human wave attacks, in these theaters that would involve a first class world power? And sea power, what reliable fleet does it have? “The Chinese navy would lose the battle in this region against Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia, all of which have advanced American or British aircraft.” (Ross 37) In what naval battle did she demonstrate her skill? “China lacks the ability to conduct sustained military operations more than 100 miles from the Chinese coast. China is a formidable land power, but in maritime Southeast Asia, where US interests are most at stake, China is militarily inferior even to countries like Singapore. and Malaysia.
Fast forward to the 21st century and China has made huge technological advances in its so-called lower military. It also has a burgeoning space program with the not-so-subtle name and message for the launch vehicles, The Long March, which symbolizes the historic one-year trek into the mountains by Mao Zedong and his army, escaping Chiang Kai-shek and his army, allowing the defeated army, time to regrouping and defeating a more modernly equipped army. In a further demonstration of China’s improved military prowess, for the first time in its history, China has outfitted an abandoned Soviet aircraft carrier, allowing it to display its military power far from its tethered shores. China’s gains, economic and military, have allowed it to modernize all aspects of its military. For now, it seems content to improve its defenses while making money while improving the quality of life for its people.
Works Cited (MLA)
Bernstein, Richard and Munro, Ross H. China I: The Coming Conflict with America.
Foreign Affairs, March/April 1997, V76, No. 2, p. 18
Robert S. Ross, “China II: Beijing as a Conservative State,” Foreign Affairs,
March/April 1997, V76, No. 2, p. 33.
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