China is the world's 2nd-ranked power and closing in on the United States. Therefore, its National People's Congress is an event that merits and receives attention, especially when it is announced there that China's military budget is going to increase by 12.7%.
This figure was disclosed on Friday by former Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, who serves as chief spokesman for the National People's Congress' annual session. Li took pains to downplay the importance of the spike, claiming it was necessary for salary raises, military drills and new weapons. Since China's military is defense oriented it does not pose a threat to any country. The Chinese also like to compare their $95 billion defense budget to the American $750 billion budget to demonstrate that there is no cause for alarm. This comparison ignores the fact that America is currently engaged in two costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These assurances will not go far towards assuaging China's neighbors and regional rivals. The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese partner of the International Herald Tribune is a consistent advocate of good Sino-Japanese relations and is far from an alarmist or jingoist. Yet in its editorial of March 5, the Japanese paper felt there was cause for alarm.
China's defense budget is far from transparent. Many military items are concealed in more innocuous parts of the budget such as research and development. There are less civilian constraints on the military due to the high esteem in which the military is held.
While China's continued development requires peace in the region, the Chinese sometimes have acted against their own best interests by causing tension with their aggressive behavior on territorial disputes, involving Japan over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and with Vietnam and others over the Spratly islands in the South China Sea.
This last comment by Asahi comes on the heels of numerous incidents last week involving Chinese military friction with Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines:
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry noted on Thursday that the Chinese Navy conducted counter-piracy trails in the Spratly Islands and claimed that it had met with Chinese embassy officials to protest.
The Philippines also complained on Thursday that the Chinese Navy had entered its territorial waters in an attempt to drive off an oil exploration vessel that was clearly in Philippine waters. The Chinese vessels left only after Filipino military aircraft were dispatched. Again last week,
Japan reported an incident involving 2 Chinese naval planes who came within 35 miles of the disputed Senkaku Island,s requiring Japan to launch aircraft to head them off.
South Korea too complained about Chinese fishing vessels fishing in South Korean waters.
Although there were no incidents to report, Indian commentators also took notice of the Chinese budget increase for the military. They too complain about more belligerent Chinese behavior in the disputed border areas between China and India. India believes that China is helping arch-rival Pakistan to isolate India.
To counteract this, India is quietly building up its relations with Japan to the point that an annual strategic dialogue takes place at the foreign ministers' level and consultation regularly takes place between national security advisers. B. Raman, a former member of the Indian Cabinet Secretariat, is alarmed about the growing Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean and beyond. This was demonstrated in the current Libyan crisis, when Chinese naval vessels were able to swiftly evacuate over 30,000 Chinese nationals from Libya.