CHINA’S NEIGHBORS BULK UP MILITARIES, PREPARE FOR POTENTIAL CONFLICT

Wall Street Journal on February 26, 2015, reported that China’s neighbors are moving forward with the modernization of their militaries with new fighter jets, submarines and other hardware,…Excerpts below:

The military buildup is an indication that many Asian countries see little reason to adjust their long-term preparations for potential friction with China, despite Beijing’s diplomatic and economic charm offensive.

China made a dramatic shift in its diplomatic approach at a summit in Beijing in November, adopting a more conciliatory tone. This included the first face-to-face meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since both took power in 2012.

That came after China pledged to invest billions in regional ports and infrastructure, with great potential benefits for its neighbors.

Many Asian nations are participating in those programs or receiving other Chinese aid. But underlying sources of tension haven’t gone away.

It has only been half a year since Vietnamese and Chinese vessels were jostling off islands claimed by both countries after China parked a giant oil rig there. A few months after that, Indian and Chinese troops tussled for weeks in the Himalayas along the countries’ disputed border.

Vietnam recently received the third of six new Russian submarines, valued at about $2 billion in total—a landmark for a country that has never had submarines. It also ordered six Russian frigates and is increasing the size of its Sukhoi fighter-jet fleet to 36 planes.

Smaller nations like Vietnam don’t expect to seriously challenge China’s military, but want to make China think twice before pressing claims.

Better-equipped countries, such as India and Japan, want China to respect them as military equals.

India is establishing a new mountain corps for deployment along its Himalayan boundaries. It is also testing ballistic missiles with a range of over 3,000 miles, which could strike inside China. In January, India test-fired one of the missiles from a mobile launcher for the first time at an island off its northeastern coast.

Asian nations are making big investments in new military hardware. Some of the latest purchases (with seller in parentheses):

INDIA
• 126 Rafale fighter jets (France)
• 22 AH-64E Apache gunships (U.S.)
• 8 P-8I Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft (U.S.)

INDONESIA
• 3 Chang Bogo-class submarines (South Korea)
• 24 F-16 fighter jets (U.S.)
• 16 Sukhoi Su-27/Su-30 jets (Russia)
• 8 AH-64E Apache gunships (U.S.)

JAPAN
• 4 helicopter carriers (Japan)
• 42 F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters (U.S)
• 17 V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft (U.S.)

MALAYSIA
• 2 Scorpene submarines (France)
• 6 Gowind-class frigates (France)

PHILIPPINES
• 12 FA-50 fighter/trainer jets (South Korea)
• 2 Hamilton-class cutters (U.S.)

VIETNAM
• 6 Kilo-class submarines (Russia)
• 6 Gepard-class frigates (Russia)
• 36 Sukhoi Su-30 jets (Russia)

Tokyo is setting up Japan’s first amphibious operations unit to defend East China Sea islands contested by China and is adding 42 F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters. Japan is increasing its defense budget by 2% in the fiscal year starting April 1.

China continues to outpace its neighbors in military spending—its military budget has grown around 10% annually for the past two decades.

The U.S. has encouraged its allies in Asia, particularly Japan, to build up military capability, which takes some pressure off Washington itself and also creates markets for U.S. weaponry.

Despite complaints from South China Sea neighbors, China continues to reclaim land to build new bases in disputed waters. Last month, Philippine officials said a new island capable of supporting a large Chinese airstrip at Fiery Cross Reef in the contested Spratly Islands was “50% complete.”

Vietnam showed that it, too, remains wary of Chinese activities in contested seas, joining Manila in denouncing Beijing’s land-reclamation projects. Pham Binh Minh, Vietnam’s deputy prime minister, visited Manila in late January for talks about upgrading the two countries’ security ties, partly to help block China’s regional expansion.

China has long argued that military modernization is normal. But Beijing has criticized Japan for easing restrictions on its Self-Defense Forces, saying Tokyo is “deliberately fabricating the China threat.” In 2013, after Tokyo launched its second helicopter carrier, China said it was “concerned over Japan’s constant expansion of its military equipment.”

Meanwhile, China’s neighbors are also bulking up. The Philippines ordered a dozen Korean fighter jets valued at $410 million, and has earmarked $1.8 billion for new hardware over the next two years, including naval frigates.

Malaysia is in the market for new fighter jets and has recently received its first pair of submarines, bought from France for roughly $2.2 billion. Indonesia has plans to station newly purchased Korean submarines and U.S. Apache gunships near islands it deems vulnerable to Chinese encroachment.

Some experts say stronger militaries elsewhere could change the strategic calculus for Beijing eventually, possibly making it more willing to negotiate settlements. “The last thing China wants is to surround itself with modern, capable militaries,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science professor at De La Salle University in Manila. As its neighbors upgrade militarily, “China is bound to face greater risks of unwanted escalation and resistance.”

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