At the face of things then classic security dilemma situation. Tom Barnett has covered the article already of course:
The Chinese views on regional security, articulated in a government white paper on national defense, provided a rare glimpse into the strategic assessments that underlie decisions and priorities of the secretive Chinese military and the Communist Party's policymaking Central Military Commission. In part, the paper was designed as a response to repeated complaints from the Bush administration that China has not explained the rationale behind its long-term military improvement program. China's announced military budget has risen about 10 percent a year recently, reaching $35.4 billion in 2006, and Pentagon specialists estimate that also counting equipment expenditures would more than double it.
Along with Taiwan's pursuit of independence, the government pointed out as particular security challenges North Korea's missile tests last summer and its maiden nuclear test in October, which undermined Chinese-led diplomatic efforts to create a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. The most recent round of nuclear negotiations took place last week and ended in stalemate, creating doubts about the utility of continuing the three-year-old six-nation talks. In listing Chinese concerns, the white paper also cited a U.S.-Japanese effort to build a regional missile defense shield based on U.S. ships equipped with the Aegis radar system and a U.S.-Japanese missile now being developed. The joint defense system, portrayed as protection against a North Korean attack, has been criticized by Chinese officials and commentators because it also could blunt China's missile threat in the event of U.S.-Chinese hostilities over Taiwan.
Chinese officials have expressed concern that Taiwan could eventually be integrated into the U.S.-Japanese system, providing a counterweight to China's increasing missile threat against the self-ruled island. That fear was not explicitly conveyed in the white paper, but Japan's growing willingness to assert itself militarily was cited as a strategic concern for military planners in Beijing. "America and Japan are strengthening their military alliance in pursuit of operational integration, and Japan seeks to modify its peace constitution and exercise collective self-defense," the paper said. "North Korea launched missiles and had a nuclear test. The situation in the Korean Peninsula and northeast Asia is getting more and more complicated and serious."
The paper said China's military improvements are part of the country's overall modernization and economic expansion. The effort will continue apace, it added, seeking to "lay a solid foundation" by 2010, make "major progress" by 2020 and "reach the strategic goal of building informationized armed forces and being capable of winning informationized wars by the mid-21st century." Moving from infantry to high-tech naval and aerial warfare has been a major goal of China's military modernization. It has entailed the shedding of thousands of untrained foot soldiers and a concerted effort to replace them with trained technicians able to function in the world of computerized weaponry.
So what is China guilty of in this last explanation of its vaunted defense build-up?
As a rising economic power they're doing to their military the same thing they've been doing to their economy for years now: swapping out cheap labor (here, ground troops) for high-tech capital (mostly air and naval, aping their model, otherwise known as the U.S. military). Why does the PLA ape the Pentagon? Who else should they logically ape?
And here are the provocative rationales offered by Hu Jintao for China's build-up:
1) danger on the Korean peninsula (hmm, that one's hard to critique);
2) rising U.S.-Japanese military cooperation (given the state of Sino-Japanese relations, that seems fairly plausible, does it not?)
3) rising provocations re: independence from Taiwan (that's really BS, but a standby for the Chinese).
China continues to use Taiwan as a national diversion, with the Party leadership making that the great excuse for a build-up that logically arises from China's rising. Yes, the obsession is real, and it's mind-boggling with the PLA. I have sat in conversations with their military strategists and planners and listened to nonsense after nonsense on this issue. You'd think the whole frickin' universe revolved around this all-important scenario, when--truth be told--this scenarios matters only to military acquisition planners in both Beijing and Washington. Why? Frankly, it's all we have left and for the Chinese, it's a nice cover for what I believe to be the long-term rationale truly at work: China's growing fears over its rising energy dependence, which within years will vastly outweigh ours.
But my God! What kind of nation builds a big military to protect its access to energy around the planet?
Well, actually, that would be us by a huge margin. (...)
All this mirror imaging by China's strategic thinkers, whether it's on Taiwan or energy security, that's got to be something just to confuse us. Surely they cannot be so unimaginative simply to ape our moves, building a naval and air force whose primary design is to prevent our ability to threaten their ability to threaten Taiwan's ability to threaten independence? And beyond that simply to guard sea lines of communication? Surely the Chinese strategic vision is not that narrow, that myopic?
Why the hell not? That's basically our Big War rationale. With China, they're aping #1. But what exactly is our excuse when Marines and Army are dying every day in this Long War we've declared? Why is the Pentagon so intent on having a war with the country that inevitably becomes our biggest economic partner?
I'm not overstating. There are many in the military and especially the Air Force and Navy that just gotta have their conflict with China. Otherwise these guys must contemplate evolutions of their forces that they do not care to contemplate.
Too many Pentagon planners want to make the environment match the force, not the other way around. They'll tell you China spies on us and tries to steal our secrets, constantly trying to make their force more like ours. They'll tell you the big future threat we face is the loss of Taiwan. They simply don't want the war we've got, and if left to their own devices, will continue to build a force that's unprepared for that war--getting our people killed in the process.