Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lecture at North Carolina State University (NCSU)

I was in North Carolina recently and had given a lecture on the rising Chinese military power at the North Carolina State University (February 23, 2010). The lecture was essentially for two classes, one on Chinese Politics of Prof. Oliver Williams and the other, US National Security Strategy of Prof. William Boettcher.

Rise of China has clearly stirred a debate not only in India and other countries in Asia, but in the US and other western countries. It is unclear as to how China will behave as it grows stronger, but it is clear that it will have significant impact on the region. As a recent US report put it, as “Chinese military power grows, its leaders’ options increase with respect to the use of coercion to press diplomatic advantage, advance interests, or resolve disputes.” While some of the major powers have adopted inclusive and accommodative approaches, other powers have tended to assume exclusive approaches that are not congenial to a stable Asian security order.

What drives Chinese military strategy is its fast-paced growth rate that allows greater money in its kitty along with greater ambitions and even greater sense of insecurity. Chinese military modernisation is also clearly in tune with its ambition to become the number one power in the world. Chinese military modernisation and its enhanced capabilities have resulted in uncertainties in the region. While procurement of weapon systems need not necessarily result in better capabilities, China has systematically relied on Russian, Western and Israeli technology to buy as well as imbibe the technology into its own indigenous technology kitty.

China’s military modernisation and the secrecy that shrouds it also have serious consequences for Asian stability. China’s military modernisation would directly impact on the general military build-up in the region, particularly in countries like India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. If India modernises its forces, there would be almost simultaneous enhancement of defence capabilities by Pakistan. China’s military modernisation, thus, has a cascading effect in the region, with increasing arms race as a constant feature.

While China’s behaviour, for the near-term, is likely to be defensive towards more capable powers such as the US, its overall capability building goes beyond its stated objectives (of defending themselves against Taiwan). This fits within its overall grand strategy of ensuring a peaceful external security environment in order to focus on its economic development. However, the increasing Chinese defence expenditure and its military modernization suggest that other powers need to be cautious in estimating the consequences of China’s rise.

This is the first time in centuries that there is simultaneous rise of three major powers in Asia. While China is realistic to understand that rise of other major powers in Asia -- Japan and India -- cannot be halted, it does adopt approaches that are counterproductive to a cooperative framework in Asia. India and Japan, for instance, will continue to look for an inclusive approach as opposed to the Chinese’ exclusivist approach that appears directed against India, US and Japan. Beijing has continued to believe that its peaceful rise and the emergence as a dominant power in Asia is only an assumption of its rightful place in the region and in fact a return to the old, but natural order for the region. India may not be willing to see an Asia dominated by any one power.

Therefore, competition for influence between China and Japan, China and the US, China and Russia and China and India are going to be some of the unfortunate features of the new Asian century. US choice as either an engaged Asian power or a reclusive offshore balancer will be an indicator to its key security partners in Asia about the credibility of the US extended deterrence strategy as well as the future Asian security matrix.

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