Why China should not be perceived as 'military threat'
Published: Mar 20, 2024 07:24 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Western sources seem hell-bent on constantly pushing the "China threat." Whether it comes from the mouths of politicians, the security establishment or mainstream media, the invective directed at China seems unrelenting, like background noise.

The recognition that China's economy will soon be larger than any other has resulted in profound angst in much of the West, as economic power is believed to be necessarily linked to military power. This assumption is because from the first 15th century explorations by Europeans, the Portuguese, followed by the Spanish, Dutch, French and British, military power has been used to subjugate nations and expropriate their economic resources.

Following the end of the colonial era, the West adopted a new form of neo-colonial domination, enforced by military means. While the era of overseas colonies has largely passed, the US remains at the forefront of this neo-colonialism, with approximately 800 military bases in 80 countries to serve its economic interests.

For the West, economic dominance is closely tied to military domination, leading to fear of China's economic rise. 

China, however, rather than pursuing a path of economic domination backed by military power, has chosen cooperative win-win economics through such multilateral initiatives as the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Thus, China represents no military threat to the West, as its path to economic success is not premised on military power. 

There are several specific reasons why China's military is not a threat. 

Chinese thinking is framed by Confucian concepts, such as stability ordered under heaven, known as "Tianxia." The 19th and 20th centuries in Chinese history were marked by conquest and internal upheaval, but that chaos is now in the past. China has transformed from a backward economy to one of the largest in the world, with massive infrastructure developments and 800 million of its citizens lifted out of poverty. Given this success and stability, why would China risk it all by engaging in the chaos of war?

China is the world's greatest trading nation given the fact that it lacks many of the resources needed to sustain its rapid economic growth. Trade brings stability, not conflict. Why would China pursue war, something so inimical to its own interests?

Much is made of the "threat" presented by the "Chinese militarization" of the South China Sea. With such a preponderance of trade passing through the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, China, so dependent on trade, is incredibly vulnerable to blockades. Contrary to Western propaganda, China is building infrastructure in the South China Sea not to threaten access, but rather to ensure shipping lanes remain open.

Regarding military matters, much is made of the "aggressive and threatening" Chinese military build-up. True, the Chinese military is growing in potency. Yet, over the years, China's defense expenditure has accounted for less than 1.5 percent of GDP. In comparison, the US military budget accounts for 3.5 percent of the GDP. By spending some $877 billion in 2022 on "defense" the US outlaid more than the next nine countries combined.

China's military power is constrained by being aggressively surrounded by an arc of US military bases stretching from South Korea and Japan, through the Philippines and down to Australia. This limits Chinese navy's ability to pose a threat outside its own coastal waters.

Unlike the US, dwelling with just two friendly nations on its borders, China shares borders with 14 countries, including Russia and India, which have significant military capabilities. On its western frontier, it is also dealing with the effects of Islamic fundamentalism. China's military focus is on stability in its own region, rather than representing a global threat. 

Responding to Western threats and bellicose rhetoric, understandably China has strengthened its military.

Clearly, the most threatening military weaponry is nuclear. Of the five nations making up the UN Security Council, China alone has renounced the first use of nuclear weaponry. It possesses, reportedly around 290 nuclear missiles, compared to over 6,000 held by the US, making any Chinese nuclear aggression unthinkable.

Given the above, clearly, any "military threat" China presents has been irresponsibly and massively hyped. One wonders (or more likely, suspects) whose interests are served by this exaggeration. 

The author is an author, historian and social commentator based in Newcastle, Australia. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn