So far we have seen that China has the GDP to be a superpower, and would have the political strength to meet the criteria if it decided to take on a leadership role. Today we will be trying to evaluate how effectively China would be able to project it’s military strength.
China employs the largest army in the world despite the fact it has not been involved in any serious battles since the early 1980’s when it faced off in a brief skirmish with Vietnam (China called this self-defense, even though it launched the attack) . Since then China has been steadily building a blue ocean navy, state of the art missiles, and even its own stealth fighter which is being tested now. China still claims that these new weapons are purely for self-defense.
The most worrying of these to the US is not China’s air force or navy, it’s the anti-satellite missiles that China has been perfecting over the past decade. As the US military has developed a high-tech army, China has been working on the counterstrike that would render most of our new toys useless. The other worrisome missile that China has been testing recently is a long-range anti-carrier missile. Considering how few countries have aircraft carriers, it seems like this project is almost specifically designed to be used against the US.
In many ways China is still preparing for a conventional war, which the US military has realized no longer exists. After all, stealth fighters, naval carriers, anti-satellite and anti-ship missiles are great deterrents against war with foreign countries, but have proven to be of little use against terrorists and rebels.
Ultimately it remains very difficult to know exactly how strong China’s military really is, since we have yet to see it in action (this is not to say I want to see it in action). However the recent evacuation of Chinese nationals from Libya gave us a glimpse of their operational capacity. Their air force and navy were able to pull 30,000+ people out of that country in about 2 weeks.
China’s neighbors though have noticed that it is starting to throw its weight around as if China were already the only superpower. In the last 6 months China has used its coast guard and navy to threaten Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. These incidents have all been over the little islands that dot the seas around China, and more importantly the possible oil reserves below them.
China of course claims that these islands are an inalienable part of China, and would never accept any other country’s claim to them. In this way China has frightened its neighbors, which have mostly turned to the US for help.
China’s military strength has grown to the point that it could begin to be able to project its might. However China remains largely unwilling to do so, as it would shatter the claim of China’s “peaceful rise”. My impression is that since this claim has become one of the party’s mantras, it would be difficult for them to engage in any sort of foreign war unless it was able to convince it’s people it was an issue of national security (they managed to convince the people that the Korean war and the attacks on Vietnam were self-defense, but the gov’t doesn’t have the same control over the media that it had then).
Tomorrow we’ll be looking at China’s much vaunted soft power.