China must boost military spending to prepare for a possible confrontation with the US, top Chinese generals said, in an unusual acknowledgment of the risk of a clash between the world’s two largest economies.
The two generals — members of the Central Military Commission (CMC) led by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) — made the comments during the annual national legislative session in Beijing.
CMC Vice Chairman Xu Qiliang (許其亮), China’s top uniformed officer, said the country needed to brace for a “Thucydides trap,” an inevitable conflict between a rising power and an established one.
“Facing the Thucydides trap and border disturbances, the military must step up its efforts to improve its capabilities,” Xu said on Friday, although the transcript was not released until later. “The most important thing is internal unity, and cohesion and improvement of overall capabilities. If you are strong, you will have long-term stability, as well as invincibility.”
Xu’s reference to “border disturbances” may be an allusion to China’s deadly clash with India last year, as well as territorial disputes in the South and East China seas. Chinese Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe (魏鳳和), who also sits on the CMC, said separately that “containment and counter-containment will be the main tone of bilateral ties between China and US.”
Xi yesterday said tha the country’s security situation faces “relatively big instability and uncertainty” at a group discussion during the legislative session, without elaborating, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.
He urged the army to coordinate priorities of military construction and war preparedness, and to get ready to “face up to various kinds of complexities and difficulties at any time.”
The remarks represented a rare admission from China about the growing risk of a confrontation with the US after escalating disputes under former US president Donald Trump over everything from trade to Taiwan.
Chinese leaders have repeatedly played down the risk a Thucydides Trap, with Xi saying during 2015 a visit to the US that such a conflict was not inevitable so long as countries avoided strategic miscalculations.
A national security strategy document released last week by US President Joe Biden affirmed Trump’s designation of China as a “strategic competitor.”
The strategy seeks to put less emphasis on using the US military to resolve conflicts and pledges to work with “like-minded countries” to forge a common approach to Beijing.
Xi has vowed to make China a great military power, pledging to complete the modernization of the armed forces by 2035 and build a world-class military capable of winning wars across all theaters by 2050.
China projected defense spending growth of 6.8 percent this year, up from 6.6 percent last year, the slowest pace in three decades.
Wei said struggles over containment efforts would “last throughout the whole process of China’s national rejuvenation.”
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