Geopolitics and the Modernization of the Armed Forces of China
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
China continues to grow rapidly in the economic field and for many nations China is a stabilizing factor in a changing world. This applies to the ongoing development of many powerful economic sectors in order to modernize and develop the infrastructure.
However, while the economic power of China is welcomed the same does not apply to military modernization. Therefore, are regional nations and America justified to raise issues about the military build- up of China?
According to political powers in China the modernization of the PLA is natural and organic. After all, the geopolitical reality of China means that this nation is rightly worried about many external issues. Also, political elites in the Chinese Communist Party are also worried about sensitive ethnic and religious issues within China.
Therefore, it appears that China does have a lot to be worried about and the reality of the role of America in northeast-Asia means that rulers in Beijing are concerned about any possible containment policy. Not that all aspects of America’s foreign policy are deemed to be against the natural interest of China.
It must be stated that the armed forces of America and NATO are intent on crushing Sunni Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan. This policy is in the interest of China because in western regions of China you have ethnic and religious issues aimed at Beijing. Also, Japan is contained by America and the fear of Japanese nationalism and military modernization is reduced by the current reality and because of constitutional factors in Japan.
China claims that military modernization is natural and no different from other major powers which also have geopolitical concerns. Therefore, the geopolitical reality of China and the shared space with many regional nations is the real issue behind China’s insecurity.
The region of Northeast Asia is very diverse and varied and China needs to focus on multiple areas. This applies to geography, economics, politics, religion, ethnicity, and many other factors. Added to this diverse reality is the nuclear dimension and this factor is a cause of concern. Also, it is factual that America, the Russian Federation, China, and India are all major military powers and the shared space in different areas with each power is a reality.
Therefore, the nuclear dimension alone is more than problematic because America, China, the Russian Federation, India, North Korea, and Pakistan, are all nuclear powers. Japan is also a nuclear power by stealth because of the de facto reality that this nation is protected by America and in the past Japan allowed American nuclear submarines within the waters of Japan. It is also clear that Japan could develop nuclear weapons if this nation desired. However, constitutional factors, the legacy of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, alongside being protected by America means that currently it is not feasible but if internal changes occurred in Japanese politics then it is a distant possibility, even if remote to many people.
If we look at the geopolitics of China, then it is clear that they overlap in many parts of Asia. For example Central Asia, Northeast Asia, South Asia, Eurasia, the Mekong delta, and South China Sea region. This vast area is very diverse and China faces multiple challenges with regards to expanding its influence and defending any weak area within the geopolitical space of China.
Taiwan is a complex matter but this issue is contained within a small geographic region; therefore, the role of America and other outside nations is a concern for China. This applies to political dimensions and the fact that Taiwan could be a launching base during the worse-case scenario between China and America. However, it is most unlikely that America would give complete support to Taiwan because of self-interests. Also, relations between China and Taiwan are complex because economic ties continue to grow and both have vested interests in the economic modernization of China.
The economic angle means that trade investments between America and China, just like China and Taiwan, are enormous and you have major economic linkages. Despite this, you do have tensions based on currency manipulation and other factors and clearly you have a lobby in America which is concerned about China.
China is also worried about certain aspects of America’s foreign policy and this applies to bases being dotted in many nations throughout Asia. After all, America has military bases in Japan and South Korea respectively, and Guam is being developed in order to increase the leverages of America. Also, America has bases in other parts of Asia and Australia is a powerful ally despite the population of this nation being relatively small given the size of its landmass.
Therefore, China is concerned about the real intentions of America and a declining power is sometimes more dangerous because if trade problems or military issues did occur, then issues like Taiwan could be manipulated. Again, this is the worse-case scenario but for military leaders in China they must be prepared for multiple worse-case scenarios in order to protect China and this also applies to protecting powerful energy routes.
Tensions with India also remain, because Chinese-Indian relations are still fragile despite growing trade. India is also rightly concerned about China’s military support towards Pakistan and both nations share a complex relationship. This also applies to territorial disputes, the role of India based on the Dalai Lama and Tibetan nationalism in India, and other complex issues based on protecting important sea-lanes and space.
China and India also court Myanmar because of geopolitical concerns and the same applies to other strategic nations in the region. Therefore, while tensions may appear to be contained you still have negative aspects within the rising ambitions of both China and India. However, growing economic trade and the threat of Islamic terrorism alongside the influence of the Russian Federation, which seeks to unify all three nations in order to utilize mutual vested interests, means that a major military clash is most unlikely outside the area of the territorial dispute (military clash would be contained to a small border issue).
Overall, China is right to worry about vast areas of the geopolitical reality of this nation and military modernization is based on this fact and the need to protect energy routes and other important factors. Internal issues related to Islam in west China and Tibetan nationalism, alongside political dissent, indicates that China is faced with both internal and external factors. This reality is pushing China to move closer to the Russian Federation and nations in Central Asia. In recent times this can be seen via the growing importance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and China`s recent military modernization was enhanced by military purchases bought from the Russian Federation.
Also, the military spending of America is much higher and from China’s point of view it is clear that America is based in the backyard of China but China is not based in the backyard of America. Therefore, according to the military doctrine of China it is about protecting the nation from many possible scenarios during a time of conflict. However, it is not based on expansionism but protecting self-interests and the nation state of China.
In light of everything, it is clear that China is modernizing the armed forces based on the geopolitical reality of this nation. Alarmists appear to be making a mountain out of a molehill because China’s statecraft is based on conflict resolution. Also, even during worse-case scenarios then China does not desire a major military confrontation outside of a limited space. This applies to the fact that the government of China is firmly focused on economic modernization, stabilizing internal issues, protecting energy routes and trying to resolve the growing gap between cities and the countryside.
Therefore, China’s military modernization is natural and based on protecting the nation state from hostile forces. It is not based on military confrontation and intimidating neighbors. Also, it must be remembered that China could have taken Hong Kong much earlier if this nation had desired but China’s statecraft meant that patience was the virtue.
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