China’s growing strength is exacerbating regional anxiety and it offers the US an opportunity to demonstrate its importance in the Asia-Pacific region, a visiting US academic told a conference in Taipei yesterday.
Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that through its actions, China had helped increase the US’ relevance in Asia in three ways.
“Compared with China, most countries, particularly those in Asia, would see US leadership is a good thing and see [China’s] increasing influence as problematic,” Glosserman said.
The refusal of Chinese leaders to shoulder broader global responsibilities and its preference for its own national interests and concerns have led other countries to consider China might not be the best partner in a dynamic international environment, Glosserman said.
The prospect of Chinese hegemony has increased the perceived value of the US to Asian governments, while China’s recent aggressive behavior in the South China Sea helped shape perceptions of the utility of the US presence in Asia — to Beijing’s detriment, he said.
Glosserman cited a number of reasons to question the possibility of China turning its growing strength into power and its ability to overtake the US.
A Pentagon report on the Chinese military released this week estimates that China’s military budget is about US$140 billion a year, “which is nice, except the US [defense budget] is US$750 billion a year,” Glosserman said.
As Charles Wolf, a longtime analyst of economics and national power, said, while Chinese military spending has been growing, US military spending was 55 percent higher last year than in 2000, reaching US$700 billion.
“For all the talk of the double-digit defense budget increase in China, the US defense budget was seven times that of China in 2000 and nine times Chinese spending in 2010,” Glosserman said.
Assessing China’s military modernization, Glosserman said: “The acquisition of a larger and more modern military has to be put into context.”
Take as an example the maiden voyage of China’s first aircraft carrier earlier this month, he said. Making an aircraft carrier “work” demands far more than just putting a ship to sea.
Glosserman recalled that a US Navy submariner said on the day the ship, a refurbished carrier purchased from Ukraine, went on its sea trial: “Oh, great. Now I have a real target to shoot at.”
“China’s readiness or seeming readiness to demonstrate how powerful it is has prompted other nations to come closer to the US,” he said.
Francois Godement, senior policy fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations, took a long-term view on the power shift in the Asia-Pacific region, saying a power shift had already happened in a geo-economic sense.
“When we look at the commercial and economic issues in Asia, what we see is Asia reintegrated and reunited in all but name ... It is impossible to separate issues involving China from issues involving the rest,” Godement said.
However, the shift has not changed the way that international organizations are run or the way major international decisions are made, he said.
Godement said that practices and institutions as decision-making systems stay in the West in spite of the monetary turmoil in the West, while huge amounts of reserve currency is predominantly kept in East Asia.