Dominance by default: How China was handed East Asia on a platter


Synopsis: Anyone within range of China’s expanding navy will have to build capabilities faster and/or work more closely with the US.


The article highlights how China, over the years, has strengthened its military capabilities while other countries are lacking behind.

What is the defence expenditure of various countries in comparison to China?

USA: In 2000, China’s defence expenditure in relation to the US outlay was 1:11. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), by last year, that ratio had changed to 1:3.

Japan: China’s defence outlay multiplied six-fold, while Japan’s stayed where it was. It spends less than 1 per cent of its GDP on defence.

Australia: Its defence expenditure has increased, but spending is still less than doubled.

Other East Asian Countries: The smaller countries with whom China contests ownership of various islands in the South China Sea did better, roughly tripled their combined defence outlay. But none matched with China.

European powers: They have raised their defence outlays by less than 20% over 20 years.

All these countries in the region, taken together, spent only two-thirds of what China did on defence last year. They mostly rely on the US for a security umbrella. But when the USA is non-committal on providing security cover to Taiwan, this support can no more be relied on.

In context to navy

China: It took nearly 30 years to first upgrade its navy. Now it is undertaking an expansion of its fleet.  Now it has the capability to deploy its entire navy in its regional waters and the Western Pacific in contrast to the USA, which can deploy only a part of its fleet in the area.

India: It has done better than others in increasing defence outlays. But the number of front-line ships and submarines has not increased much.

Chinese has developed advanced long-range missiles. They are a threat to the navy’s surface ships. On the other hand, India struggles to develop even a mid-range, sub-sonic cruise missile — the Nirbhay.

USA: It has fewer front-line naval ships (under 300) than China. On the Ship to ship category, the US is still superior, but China has been commissioning new ones at twice the US rate.

This explains why the USA is looking for a limited goal of deterrence. It is in need of alliances to secure its dominance. This explains the recent announcement of AUKUS. The USA has strengthened its military hold over the region by providing nuclear submarines and technology to Australia. If Japan can take similar steps, the USA will have a formidable presence in the region.

What is the way forward?

This is the time for hard choices. The USA needs to make hard choices to strengthen the military of its allies. And the neighbouring counties need to make hard choices of either aligning with the USA or increasing their defence expenditure to match China.


Source: This post is based on the article “Dominance by default: How China was handed East Asia on a platter” published in the Business Standard on 18th September 2021.

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