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Thursday 22 Feb 2018 | 16:36 | SYDNEY
Thursday 22 Feb 2018 | 16:36 | SYDNEY

What does China's military power mean for us?



10 March 2008 11:52

The Pentagon has handed down its annual report to Congress on China’s military power. Given that it is now in its eighth edition and beginning to get a little tedious, the release of this year’s report appears to have been nicely timed to coincide with an official Chinese announcement, ahead of its National People’s Congress meeting, that the PRC plans once again to increase its annual military spending by a whopping 17 percent.

While the report contains all of the usual expressions of concern regarding China’s lack of transparency in all things strategic, this year’s report nevertheless strikes me as a slightly more cautious, less shrill document than those of previous years, possibly reflecting the fact that, for the first time, Washington and Beijing plan to sit down and discuss points of difference in the report.

Boiled down, the key judgments are not surprising: China continues to modernise its military forces, enhancing in particular the quality and quantity of its air and naval forces, as well as its strategic missile capabilities. Though China remains largely dependent on Russian technology for its fledgling space program, and for the continued modernisation of its air force, reforms in China’s military-industrial sector appear to be gradually providing China with a greater degree of self sufficiency, enabling it to build ships and submarines with advanced weapons systems, including ballistic and cruise missiles.

With regard to Chinese intentions, the Pentagon seems to suggest that China’s military modernization is motivated principally, but not exclusively, by a desire to simultaneously deter Taipei from taking steps toward de jure independence, whilst preventing the US or any other third party from intervening in a potential crisis across over Taiwan.

All of this does raise some interesting and very important questions for Australian defence planners, especially those tasked with the preparation of Australia’s next Defence White Paper. Specifically, how might the strategic order and military balance of Northeast Asia evolve over the coming decades? What kind of operational commitment, if any, should Australia be prepared to make to a future conflict between the US and China over Taiwan? What kinds of capabilities will this require, and how can these capabilities be most cost effectively integrated into our military force-structure?

These are just some of the difficult, but unavoidable, questions that Australia’s White Paper strategists face over the coming year, reflecting the complexity and magnitude of their task ahead.

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