It’s no secret the People’s Republic of China (PRC) will not, borrowing from Dylan Thomas, “go gentle into that good night” when it comes to Taiwan. Instead, just the opposite is happening. Beijing is gearing up for conflict with the West, bolstering its battle plans by significantly increasing its spending on a growing military. Combine a budget for defense increasing faster than the PRC’s gross domestic product with the threatening rhetoric coming from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and trouble from the mainland across the Taiwan straits seems more imminent.
China Is Spending More on Its Military
Comparing China’s spending on the People’s Liberation Army is always tricky because what Beijing does with its military budget is mainly opaque to the outside observer. We can only get a rough order of magnitude based on comparing percentages more or less than previous years. For example, Reuters calculated:
“The spending figure, set at 1.45 trillion yuan ($229.47 billion) in the national budget released on Saturday (March 4), is closely watched by China’s neighbors and in Washington as a barometer of how aggressively the country will beef up its military. This year’s 7.1% hike marks the seventh consecutive single-digit increase but is the fastest pace since the 7.5% proposed for 2019.”
The takeaway is the CCP has decided to invest more aggressively in its military than it had in the recent past. But some context helps assess what this means vis-à-vis the US defense budget. A 2020 study by the Defense Business Board used the purchase power parity (PPP) metric to compare CCP military spending with that of the US. PPP compares countries’ currencies economically based on what can be purchased regarding the same amount of goods and services.
“Importantly, from a defense spending perspective, while the US spends much more on defense than China on a nominal dollar basis, the gap is not nearly as great and is closing rapidly when measured with the PPP metric,” the Business Board study reported. Furthermore, “Considering both PPP and the difference in the cost of manpower, China actually has more defense purchasing power than the US.” And the People’s Republic of China continues to threaten the US and the West, particularly regarding Taiwan. “Republicans, as well as current and former national security officials, have warned that China intends to invade Taiwan, with some warning China has been emboldened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Fox News reported. Growing concerns by US officials over the possibility of PRC forces invading or putting a maritime blockade in place are exacerbated by the intensifying rhetoric coming from mainland China. “If the United States does not hit the brake, but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing and there surely will be conflict and confrontation. Such competition is a reckless gamble,” warned Qin Gang, the PRC’s newly appointed foreign minister.
China is Fanning the Flames of Conflict
Driving a wedge deeper into the relationship between Beijing and Washington, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a propaganda sheet headlined US Hegemony and Its Perils. The hit piece on the US claims to be “presenting the relevant facts, seeks to expose the US abuse of hegemony in the political, military, economic, financial, technological and cultural fields, and to draw greater international attention to the perils of the US practices to world peace and stability and the well-being of all peoples.” In the study of psychology this is called “projection” – ascribing to someone or some other entity the characteristics the subject exhibits themselves.
“A US intelligence report revealed that Chinese President Xi Jinping has instructed his country’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), to prepare for an invasion of Taiwan by 2027,” Kent Masing wrote recently in the International Business Times. Whether bluster or not, the US is taking precautions to prepare for the PLA to put their words into action. The US Marines, one of Taiwan’s first lines of defense, are training for just such an eventuality. During a training exercise, members of the 3rd battalion, 4th Marine regiment, stationed at Okinawa, Japan, practiced helicopter assaults to engage invaders of a fictional island. “The Marines are training for a war with China, probably precipitated by an invasion of Taiwan,” The Economist surmised.
It’s evident tension is building between the US and China, and the Beijing government appears to be stoking the flames of conflict. The Biden administration, for its part, does not seem to be taking the bait. Nonetheless, being prepared is a prudent course of action.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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