‘China’s military must spend more’ to meet US war threat

Jun Mai, South China Morning Post

Posted at Mar 09 2021 01:18 PM

‘China’s military must spend more’ to meet US war threat 1
Soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army march during the Victory Day Parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 24, 2020. The military parade, marking the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, was scheduled for May 9 but postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Host photo agency/Ramil Sitdikov via Reuters

China must increase military spending to prepare for a war with a dominant power, according to the country’s top general, raising the spectre of armed conflict with the United States.

General Xu Qiliang, second in command of the armed forces after President Xi Jinping, said the spending was necessary to prepare the country for the “Thucydides trap”, the idea that conflict is inevitable when one power rises to displace a great one.

“In the face of the Thucydides trap and border problems, the military must speed up increasing its capacity,” said Xu, who is also one of the 25 members of the Politburo, the Communist Party’s inner circle.

“[We] must make breakthroughs in combat methods and ability, and lay a sound foundation for military modernisation.”

He said China was already rising in economic power, saying the country’s GDP was equivalent to more than 70 per cent of the US’ economy. “This means we are already standing on the key position of a new chapter towards strength,” he said.

Xu gave his assessment on Friday in a group discussion alongside the annual gathering of China’s National People’s Congress, according to official reports made available to journalists registered at the event.

The phrase “Thucydides trap” is widely used to refer to possible armed conflicts between China and the United States and was made popular by Harvard political scientist Graham Allison, who argued that the two sides were heading towards a war that neither wants.

Few Chinese officials have referred to the Thucydides Trap in public. One of the exceptions is Xi.

“There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides Trap,” he said during his visit to Seattle in 2015. “But should major countries time and again make the mistake of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves.”

Xu’s comments underline Beijing’s growing pessimism about its relationship with the United States under President Joe Biden, after brief optimism over the departure of Donald Trump.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned on Sunday that the United States should not cross China’s “red lines” such as Taiwan. But he also said Beijing was willing to work with Washington on pandemic control, economic recovery and climate change.

Discussions about tensions with the United States have also gained traction among members from the military at this year’s legislative sessions.

On Saturday, Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said strategic confrontation with the US had entered a period of stalemate.

“Containment and counter-containment will be the main theme of bilateral ties in the long term,” Wei said.

He added that China was in a phase of high national security risks, and the military must improve its ability to win against “strong enemies”.

The next day, defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said that part of the 6.8 per cent defence budget increase this year would be spent on key projects in the next five-year plan to help the military reach its long-standing goal of catching up with the US in being able to “fight and win” on the modern battlefield.

The rest would go on training, weapons procurement and salaries for the country’s 2 million soldiers, he said.

The tough talking points from China’s top generals have echoed those from Biden’s national security team – Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin told Nato allies in February that China was among their common challenges.

And Biden’s pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, told the Senate last month that he saw competition with China as the key to US national security.

Shanghai-based naval expert Ni Lexiong said the five-year plan pointed to Xi’s sense of crisis about pressure from the United States, especially in the East and South China seas.

“Xi realises that there is a big gap between the PLA and the US military, and that the gap might widen further if Washington reinforces its scientific and technological bans on the defence industry,” Ni said.

“The most effective way is to use China’s top-down political system to mobilise all resources across sectors to accelerate military modernisation.”

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan



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