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Asia Arms up to Counter Growing Chinese Might
Sep 19, 2014

Asian countries now account for about half of the world’s arms imports, with China leading the way by quadrupling its annual military budget over the past decade. The growth in military spending has largely kept pace with economic expansion, although it’s been pulling ahead in China, Vietnam and several other countries this year.

Vietnam has nearly doubled its military spending, Japan is requesting its biggest-ever defence budget and the Philippines is rushing to piece together a viable navy.

Several Asian nations are arming up, their wary eyes fixed squarely on one country: a resurgent China that’s boldly asserting its territorial claims all along the East Asian coast. 

The scramble to spend more defence dollars comes amid spats with China over contested reefs and waters. Other Asian countries such as India and South Korea are quickly modernizing their forces, although their disputes with China have stayed largely at the diplomatic level.

China’s goal is to dislodge the U.S. as the dominant power in the Pacific. Among the stakes are vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea and potentially lucrative pockets of oil and natural gas under East Asian waters.

he Chinese bet is that it can increase its military capacity in the South and East China seas faster than Vietnam and the Philippines can do so. If China is able to move freely and exercise more control of its adjacent seas, it will become a full-fledged naval power.

Beijing hasn’t yet caught up to the U.S., which at $665 billion a year, spends more on its military than the next eight countries combined and triple that of China. Still, China’s spending nearly equals the total defence budgets of all 24 other countries in East and South Asia.

Drawing the most attention is China’s submarine fleet, which is projected to match U.S. numbers by 2020, at 78 vessels each. Many of the Chinese submarines will be stationed at a giant underwater base on Hainan island, which juts into the South China Sea.

China’s moves have spurred a submarine shopping spree across Asia. This year, Vietnam received the third of six submarines it ordered from Russia plus maritime patrol aircraft capable of hunting down Chinese subs. Russia is the top military exporter to Asia, followed by the U.S. and then European countries such as the Netherlands.

Compared to Vietnam, the Philippines is lagging behind. After helplessly watching China build atop reefs in the Spratly Islands, which both countries claim, the Philippines welcomed U.S. troops back to its bases after 20 years away. And it plans to boost spending on maritime patrol aircraft, bombers and other hardware.

The Philippines is doing a lot of work to invest in military modernization. For many years its economy has been growing and for many years it hasn’t been able to respond to these requirements.

In June this year, Japan agreed to donate six Coast Guard vessels to Vietnam, after pledging 10 to the Philippines last year. On its own, Vietnam has nearly doubled its Coast Guard fleet to 68 vessels over the past five years. And Japan has expanded its main Coast Guard fleet by 41 vessels, for a total of 389 ships. Japan has used such vessels over the past two years to defend its claims to several uninhabited islands it calls the Senkakus, which the Chinese claim as the Diaoyus. Last month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government requested his country’s biggest-ever military budget—$48 billion with outlays for P-1 surveillance aircraft, stealth fighters and other U.S.-built hardware. In July, Abe’s Cabinet approved a reinterpretation of the country’s constitution allowing it to defend American and other foreign troops under attack. Earlier this month, Japan and India pledged to share defensc technologies and hold joint military exercises.

India, which has territorial disputes with both China and Pakistan, has bought so many tanks and jet fighters that it’s become the biggest arms importer in the world. India has opened a 100,000-person-strong mountain corps near disputed stretches of its border with China.


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