Xi Jinping: During his next five-year tenure, the Asia-Pacific arms race is set to pick up speed as China’s neighbors scramble to keep up.
During Xi Jinping’s ten-year rule, China has diversified its standing army, constructed the greatest navy in the world, and accumulated a nuclear and ballistic arsenal that serves to pose a threat to any adversary. During Xi’s next five years in office, the Asia Pacific weapons race is set to pick up speed as China’s neighbors scramble to stay on top.
Frequent purchases of weapons have increased across the area, with South Korea creating a blue-water navy and Australia purchasing nuclear-powered submarines. International Institute for Strategic Studies data from London indicate that Asia-Pacific defense expenditure exceeded $1 trillion in just one year.
Expenditure and cost in China, the Philippines, and Vietnam has approximately doubled during the past ten years. Pakistan, South Korea, and India are not far behind. Even Japan is claiming to have an “increasingly harsh” security environment, is seeking record defense budgets, and moving closer to scrapping its long-standing “no first strike” policy.
According to Malcolm Davis, a former Australian defense official who is now at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, “All the important players in the Indo-Pacific region are responding to China’s military modernization, practically as fast as they can.”
No more paper tigers
Years ago, one historian described the People’s Liberation Army as “the world’s largest military museum” because of how poorly armed and useless it was. It had outdated armament from the Soviet era, was rife with corruption, and was mostly an infantry force with a dismal track record in international battles.
The involvement of the PLA in the Korean War resulted in the loss of about 200,000 Chinese
lives. Tens of thousands were spent on an invasion of Vietnam in 1979, which was mostly omitted from official history.
Some reforms were already in motion when Xi took over as commander-in-chief of the PLA in 2013. It started in the 1990s when US military strength during the Gulf War and the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis frightened and awed Jiang Zemin into action. But to strategic strategist Alexander Neill, “That effort really didn’t start translating to competence until Xi Jinping stepped in.”
The Liaoning, a restored Ukrainian ship, and the J-15 multi-role fighter aircraft, based on a Sukhoi prototype, had just been launched by the PLA. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Beijing has now grown its military spending for 27 years running.
Today, China has a navy that is a rival of the United States, two operating aircraft carriers, thousands of fighters, and hundreds of long- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Following China’s temporary and partial blockade of Taiwan in August, a senior US military officer implied that even Washington would find it difficult to stop it.
According to Seventh Fleet commander Karl Thomas, “They have a very large navy, and if they want to bully and place ships around Taiwan, they very much can do that.” China’s nuclear arsenal, which mirrors the US nuclear triad which is growing exponentially, can now likely be fired from land, sea, and air, according to the Pentagon. China currently possesses roughly 350 nuclear warheads, which is double the number it did during the Cold War, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
According to US intelligence, this stockpile might increase by another double to 700 by 2027. The northwest of the nation is where new nuclear missile silos are being constructed. Washington has been blunt in expressing the scope of the People’s Republic of China’s ambition and might.
According to a Pentagon analysis from last year, “The PRC is the only challenger capable of combining its economic, political, military, and technological capabilities to launch a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.” To better serve its authoritarian regime and domestic interests, Beijing “seeks to change the international order.” This alleged global intent has alarmed China’s neighbors more than any hardware.
‘Huge favor’ from Xi
Clearly, deterrence is a major consideration in many high-profile military programs around the region, whether it be preventing a conventional attack or the “little blue men” of Beijing’s maritime militias. According to experts, the threat posed by North Korea’s rapid armament has little to do with South Korea’s intentions to acquire naval might be capable of operating far from coastal seas.
As part of the so-called AUKUS deal, Australia wants to purchase eight nuclear submarines which will give them the ability to stay underwater for lengthy periods of time and undertake retaliation attacks.
Canberra is also debating the acquisition of hypersonic weaponry, longer-range ballistic missiles, and even cutting-edge B-21 stealth bombers that are capable of striking practically anywhere in the world.
According to Davis, all of these initiatives indicate that China is becoming increasingly aware of its ability to reshape the region as it sees fit. According to him, the US Navy’s dominance in the Western Pacific’s seas is quickly coming to an end, and Asia-Pacific allies are fortifying their own defenses in response. “Without Xi Jinping, AUKUS would not have been. He has greatly benefited us in that regard.”