[Viewpoint] Judging China’s military ambitions

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[Viewpoint] Judging China’s military ambitions

For a state leader who wants to show off improved national power, a military parade including a formal inspection is perhaps the best opportunity. By displaying elite troops and advanced arms, the country’s dignity and legitimacy can be confirmed at home and promoted abroad.

The military parade in China that took place in Beijing on Oct. 1 to celebrate the country’s 60th National Day showed off the forces of the country. About 50 advanced weapons systems and elite troops from the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Second Artillery Corps were displayed.

The country’s DongFeng-31A intercontinental ballistic missile with a 12,000-kilometer (7,500-mile) range was made public for the first time. The Changjian-10 cruise missile, early warning system, aerial tanker and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft were also showed off. Through this display of military power, China appears to have succeeded in checking the separation movements of minority groups such as the Tibetans and Uighurs and in solidifying national unity while promoting the country’s improved national status around the world.

For the past two decades, China has been criticized by the international community, including the United States, for its lack of transparency in its defense budget. In the mid- to late-1990s, China’s defense budget was lower than that of Taiwan, but the amount is currently estimated at $90 billion, the second-largest after the United States.

Based on its enormous financial resources, China is not only focusing on bolstering its conventional forces but also building advanced strategic weapons systems such as nuclear arms, aircraft carriers and space weaponry.

In addition to the arms systems displayed at the military parade, China has already secured 200 nuclear warheads and 800 missiles including 46 intercontinental ballistic missiles with a range of 8,000 kilometers or more.

By 2011, the country plans to launch 35 navigation satellites to create a Chinese version of GPS called the Beidou Navigation System. China seeks to build two conventional aircraft carriers by 2015 and two more 60,000-ton nuclear-powered carriers by 2020.

How will China’s increase in armed power influence East Asia and the global order?

Some in the United States have long seen China as a military threat. Many also argue that China will become the new superpower, replacing the United States. Even inside China, the belief has arisen that the country can be one of the world’s two mightiest nations in terms of not only its economy but also its military.

The national desire for a stronger military is a matter of sovereignty, and it is not something with which others can interfere. However, Korea hopes that changes will be pushed forward within the scope promised by the Chinese leadership. China has repeatedly pledged that its bolstered military power will not be used for expansion but will be based on a strategy of peaceful development. China also says its armed forces are not intended to disturb the regional order. Its moves must not trigger an arms race in East Asia.

In its defense white paper made public in January, China made some important promises. It reconfirmed its principle of not pre-emptively using nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state. It also made clear its policy of opposing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. On the day of the military parade, the state-run Xinhua News Agency also reported that despite its bolstered military power, China’s exclusively defense-oriented policy will remain unchanged.

Taking this opportunity, how about beginning a discussion among East Asian nations including South Korea, China and Japan for more diversified cooperation in building military trust and security?

The United States and Russia are having a discussion to form a new nuclear arms reduction treaty to replace the current Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty also known as START-1, which will expire at the end of this year.

The leaders of South Korea, China and Japan will have their annual summit in Beijing on Saturday, and anticipation is high that the trilateral meeting will serve as a chance for productive discussion to address the issue.

*The writer is a professor of political science at the Korea National Defense University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Young-jun

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