Can China become a military superpower? | Inside Story

July 29, 2019

can China be a military superpower Beijing has outlined its defense plans that includes a modern and advanced army it's also accused the u.s. of undermining global stability so how will this defense policy play out both in the asia-pacific region and beyond this is inside story hello and welcome to the program I'm Halima Hadean global military competition is on the rise and China believes it's lagging behind Beijing says the US has increased its defense budgets modernized its weapons and developed its capability in cyber space and space itself well the Chinese government wants to catch up it's detailed how it intends to do just that in a national defense paper released on Wednesday Beijing has declared it wants greater modernization of its Armed Forces and weapons it says it's ambitious plans are peaceful but not if Taiwan tries to achieve independence from the mainland China's defense ministry has warned it's ready to go to war to safeguard its national unity and says it will take all necessary measures to defeat those it calls separatists that's here what China spokesperson had to say the building and growth of China's defense capability is based on its own justified security demands it's growth has always been the growth of the force for world peace the white paper has clearly demonstrated China's policy of not pursuing hegemony the theory that a strong country must seek hegemony will never apply to China no matter how China is developed in the future we will not threaten anyone neither will we seek spheres of influence we module there are still big gaps between China's defense expenditure and its demands of maintaining the national sovereignty security and interests complementing its obligations as a major power and maintain the progress of its own defense level we will continue to keep a proper and stable growth of expenditure well the island of Taiwan is self ruled but China sees it as part of its own territory the US has angered Beijing by approving sales of weapons to the island this month sales worth more than two billion dollars while China says it won't allow the island to split from the mainland we are willing to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with utmost sincerity and effort however we have to be very clear that seeking Taiwan independence will meet a dead end if anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China the Chinese army will certainly fight resolutely defending the country's sovereign unity and territorial integrity well the mainland Affairs Council Taiwan's top policymaking body on China condemns Beijing remarks in a statement it says we urge Beijing authorities to renounce irrational malicious acts such as the use of force and to improve cross-straits relations and handle issues including Hong Kong rationally so it can be a responsible regional member well let's have a look at China's military power China's People's Liberation Army is the world's largest military force with more than 2 million soldiers on the grounds in the air and at sea President Xi Jinping says he wants to transform the PLA into what he calls a world-class force capable of winning wars anywhere by 2050 China has cut the size of its land-based army by around 50% and significantly boosted its naval and air forces as parts of that plan and it's investing heavily in modernizing its military equipment China's defense budget is the world's second largest after the United States it's military expenditure for this year is set at more than one hundred and seventy-five billion dollars president Donald Trump has demanded the u.s. 2019 defense budget be increased to 750 billion dollars well let's bring in our panel in Bangkok via Skype we have John Gravette he's an analyst at Jane's by IFS marketer defense and security consultancy in DC were joined by Lawrence Korb he served as US assistant secretary of defense and is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and in Berlin we have Adam mean he's a China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney and a visiting fellow at the University of Hamburg welcome to you all I'd like to start in Berlin if I could with Adam Lee but what would you say we've learned from this white paper I think the white paper is a strong political statement it didn't present any real strategies or any surprise for these of us that watches China's military but it's a very strong political statement about how China sees its regional and international environment how how he sees at the role played by the US which is counterproductive and destabilizing in the view of Beijing but as well as some other bits which I think are critically important and one of these is our internal security has become such a big part of China's national security that it's being that it's being elevated to the top of Beijing's priority for its armed forces but as well as the focus on political loyalty of the Armed Forces as well thanks very much for that out of it let's cross to Washington DC now in Lawrence Korb we heard that this is China's statements of defining its rule in the world what would you say China's message is with this with this document and how is the u.s. likely to interpret that well China's message is that unlike our own document they're not a strategic competitor us worldwide that they're basically protecting their own interests and also that their millet is getting more and more powerful particularly in their region what we call the Indo Pacific Pacific region and they will protect their interests and again as they've been doing ever since that the revolution that Taiwan is part of China and we're not happy with the United States continuing to provide military assistance there and if you should think about you know becoming separate we will use our military force to prevent the Taiwan from doing that even if the u.s. age them do you think Lawrence Korb this is a shot across the bow then are more emboldened China is now ready to say we are ready at this point to take military action and it's time for the u.s. to back off well basically they're saying that you know they're on their way to doing that they said by 2050 they're going to be a world-class military but the fact of the matter is in their region they're also very very powerful they also no mention they complain about the u.s. being a global power and messing around all the world they don't talk about their belt road initiative which is destabilizing in a lot of parts of the world okay recentiy very interesting points there Lawrence Korb the Belton rule initiative and the perceptions of the United States I want to raise these two issues during the course of our discussion but John Gravette if I could just come to you how do you interpret this white paper in this statement from China on the the state of its military in the direction that it's going in what's the main takeaway for you well I mean the statement so far right in as much that this shows China's determination to retain its sovereignty over Taiwan and control that situation and also the message to the US but there's also a lot of holes I think in the white paper that was issued today there's a lot of there's a lot of ambiguity and there's a lot of areas that China doesn't really come provide any deep many details on for example military bases international military bases it talks a little bit about the one in the Horn of Africa but very nothing else in other examples include the scope of military modernization and capabilities that that China is looking to deploy very little information about that the main thrust certainly is that the Taiwan aspect that the Taiwan situation was not apparent in the 2015 white paper only only passing reference and so this is the real main takeaway in this 20 in this 2019 white paper and the reason for that is because the United States has played a much stronger role under President Trump I think in certainly in supporting Taiwan and that is the main message here but like I say there is a number of ambiguities in the white paper you know China uses the white paper I think really to show that it is becoming more transparent and more open about its military objectives but I think it doesn't really it's failed to do that I think certainly and I don't I think it would be a noticeable aspect of it in the United States a madam me if I could come to you you mentioned there the focus on this white paper it has the contrast with the previous white paper in 2015 which was more focused on an external perspective now the focus one could interpret it as being a more internal one focusing on China's domestic stability what it uses its territories do you think in some way there is it signals a new determination for the Chinese to take more concrete action when it comes to Taiwan or is this more of a diversionary tactic to focus more on the internal and domestic policies while quietly expanding influence overseas I think certainly the domestic aspects has become top of a Beijing agenda if you look at the 2015 defense white paper taijuan Tibet and Sheng John is not explicitly mentioned although it is implied but in this case they have been incorporated into the tasks and missions of the Chinese military so it's very clear that this has elevated importance for the Chinese party state the other thing is that there's added language with reference to maintaining political security maintaining social stability so very much coded language for maintaining to control the party okay one of the other big messages from this was the fact that the u.s. is undermining global stability I'd like to examine that and Adams staying with you in what way is the u.s. undermining global stability according to this white paper in this report yeah so in Beijing is viewed the u.s. is pursuing what it who work what it called hegemony ISM so essentially security security at the cost of others and being able to exercise a degree of power that is seized as illegitimate right but also in the region in Beijing's view the United States is increasingly antagonistic towards Beijing whether that be in the South China Sea or with reference to Taiwan and indeed the reinforcement of the u.s. alliance networks and deployments and other forms of intervention in the region and beyond its unilateralism as well its enhancement of its military capabilities so all of that threatens Beijing and perceived by Beijing as potentially threatening of its national interests Lawrence Korb would you with the u.s. accept these arguments that it's America that's that's undermining global stability no obviously the United States feels that it's in the region because they're asked to be there by our allies the Japanese the South Koreans the Australians and that we're there to help protect them for example if the Chinese try and take over some of the islands that traditionally have belonged to Japan we would we would prevent that and obviously we would come to the defense of Taiwan if for example the Chinese decided that they've waited long enough and they had to use force to to unify the unify the island so we're feel that we're there to provide the stability and the Chinese are the aggressors I think it's very interesting now we've tightened our ties with India it's not used to be the Pacific Command now it's the Indo Pacific Command and India and China have been traditional arrivals in the area john kravitz we're seeing that two narratives here from China's perspective the u.s. is threatening global stability from the u.s. perspective they're merely defending allies in the region and China is becoming more of a destabilizing factor can both these things be true yes I mean China obviously sees its military modernization its military investment its non-military activities such as the Belton Road initiative which are aimed at building strategic and economic influence primarily I'm all these go hand in hand and our part of China's strong development that we've seen over the past few years and this will continue and so this kind of this white paper is part of the process of laying down the foundation and laying down the marker as to where China's position in the global in the global between the global powers is it's it's showing to the US we're here we're a dominant player in the region and we will continue and expand our power over the coming over the coming decade and and and the lines that it's put in the sand today with this white paper certainly in terms of Taiwan is a warning and one that will be you know understood in the US but the US will obviously not stand down so it means that there will be a requirement for diplomacy and for discussions and negotiations and also threats and and and and concerns about misunderstandings in some of the region so that so that there is you know there is a place for two but it requires a certain level of diplomacy because neither of these two powers the US and China are going away anytime soon in this region and beyond and it gives rise to to the question we know how likely are we to see some kinds of military intervention because already the US and China are in the middle of a trade war neither side look willing to back down does this increase a risk of a military confrontation I don't think because there is an understanding that what's happening at the moment in certainly in areas like the South China Sea where China's military power has grown to such an extent that its deterrence has also grown which means that it's that the chances of military engagement have decreased so China's military power has decreased as increased to such a rate that they that the chances of any real military conflict has has probably decreased with some certain regional players however that's not the u.s. and that's where the complication is and the real danger I think is misunderstandings miscalculations about patrols and the areas that they do patrols about that that is probably an area that is of concern but diplomacy will be a key aspect going forward for these two nations Adam me just how far do you think China is prepared to go with regard to Taiwan we heard in that press conference there the spokesperson saying we're willing to go to war do you think we can take that statement at face value I think it's hard to judge that I mean China has been consistently saying for a long time now that it's willing to go to war over Taiwan but I think ultimately the cardinal principle that animates Chinese behavior at home as well as policy abroad is the need to keep the Chinese Communist Party in power so if it comes to Taiwan or the collapse of the Communist Party then I think they wouldn't go to war but in other scenarios you can imagine where the Chinese Communist Party's legitimacy is threatened and it's been put into a really tough spot where it feels that military action is its only way out so I think that's the kind of scenario that will potentially have escalation implications and very tragic consequences Lawrence Korb a similar question to you how far is the u.s. prepared to go when it comes to support for Taiwan given these red lines and markers have really been drawn in the sons with this white paper well there's no doubt about the fact that the US would come to Taiwan's aid if the Chinese should be foolish enough to try and integrate it using military force obviously nobody wants that because nobody's going to win if that if that happens similarly the United States and China have to be careful they don't have an accidental escalation when we're conducting patrols in the area and they're trying to you know bill run Y runways on these islands that they're that they're that they're claiming and I think that's the real danger as well as the fact that something could happen in North Korea given what's what's going on there their missile buildup the fact that we're putting missiles in South Korea theoretically to defend against North Korea but the Chinese see them as undermining their new clear deterrent so those are the things I think you have to be very very careful careful about and make sure that we maintain lines of communication so when accidental encounter does not spiral into a conflict that nobody really wants absolutely but things Lawrence Korb do seem to be deteriorating in terms of the rhetoric building up with this trade war going on the Chinese using very much more robust rhetoric when it comes to outlining their position in this white paper do you think this will be ringing alarm bells in Washington the release of this white paper do you think in the u.s. there is a recognition that they are not going to be the only superpower in tone well I think it will reinforce our the American national security strategy which said you know we have two major strategic competitors China and Russia and China is them is the more potent one and that's why we've had to increase our defense spending which in real terms even if you control for inflation is higher than at the height of the Reagan buildup or during during World War two so it will feed into that narrative and make it hard for people who say we're focusing too much on defense and not enough on diplomacy or to win the to win the day Adam need to you think we are looking at a new Chinese military superpower already China's very strong economically is this the the next frontier indeed I think Xi Jinping has made a abundantly clear that China is looking for a service power status when it comes to its military force the white paper clearly highlights that the People's Liberation Army is not where Beijing wants it to be acknowledges that tremendous modernization and reform has already happened but it also says that it's it still lags behind world leading militaries and I think that's what that that's what China's military were working towards and it's got milestones in 20 20 20 thirty-five and of course to become the world leading a world leading military by 2050 so indeed we're looking at China's pursuit of that military superstardom it's another matter to kind of evaluate whether that is possible in the frame in a timeframe given by xi Jinping okay and to you John gråvik's we're coming to the end of our discussion just give me your thoughts are we looking now at two military superpowers the US and China or will the u.s. remain dominant in this regard at the moment the u.s. is dominant in this regard and will remain so for the foreseeable future certainly for the near-term and as was stated just now Chinese military has certain goals that it wants to achieve by the twenty mid-2030s and 2050s and I think by that time on the trajectory that China is on at the moment with the investment that China has committed and is committing to military modernization there will be a different scope and a different level of military power available to the Chinese government at that period at the moment the US isn't ahead in terms of capabilities and technologies and understanding but the China Chinese is rapidly improving its capabilities very quickly well lots of food for thought that I'd like to thank all of my guests Jon Kravitz Lawrence Korb and Adam knee and thank you too for watching you can see the program again any time by visiting our website that's and for further discussion just head to our Facebook page that's forward slash AJ inside story you can also join the conversation on twitter our handle is axe aging insight story or you could tweet me directly at how i Mohideen but for me for now and the whole inside story team it's bye-bye you


  • Reply Yux.T N. July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    In Asia = yeah, China can be strong…but against USA or NATO = no

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  • Reply Konst Vit July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Ofcourse they are superpower. China have way more nuclear missiles, than official 200 quantities of warheads. Plus largest in the world missiles with short and medium range, plus biggest troops with modern equipment and tank, vehicles, ships, aircrafts etc

  • Reply Stig Berge ជ្រាដដែល July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    no, china use more money on surveillance of their own population than they use on military

  • Reply glenemma1 July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    In practical terms Taiwan is already separate. It has been governing itself for decades.
    Why would it want to return to China. Life in Taiwan is much better than life in China.

  • Reply TribuNi MangBer July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    i dont think the US will go to full scale war with china just because of Taiwan if china decided to take it by force..US doesnt want to mess with countries with tougher military capabilities..that is the US trademark.

  • Reply Joly Dee July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Becoming number one nation is not seen by how mighty is your military weapon & your economy. Becoming a number one nation must be a godly nation & not greedy

  • Reply One Word July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    China is a major Super Power.

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    The Brit has a stutter problem.

  • Reply Star Universe July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    NOW China can build it own power because it population right now are rich better life and welfare for everyone. Others nations are still poor it should be world superpower.

  • Reply Diaralcasan Ibrahim July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Bismillahir rahmaniir Rahiim!
    Insha'Allah, China will Ultimately be the next military & economic Superpower Nation with Philippines as an ally. America will seriously pay the price of their atrocities & oppressions against innocent people of the World under deceptive circumstances to perpetuate Power & Supremacy. But everything in this life has its own definite end in the Mighty Will & Justice of Allah swt by the Quran that most men neglected to understand.

    Subhanallah! Alhamdulillah! Allahu'akbar!

  • Reply dr nayk July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Why become military superpower when you make literally every electronic device on earth.

  • Reply Almighty July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    With imran khan recent visit Pakistan has strenghened their defence against Iran and India with help from Amrika. Thank you Trump for 125 million dollar gift. Long live Pakistan Amrika friendship

  • Reply Eric July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    WW1 Germany wanted to include Russia because it was afraid how powerful it might become in the future. That fear contributed to WW2.

  • Reply kaybee65 July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    US is clearly the aggressor. Defending South Korea and Japan are fine but not Taiwan. Why need to put their navy so close to China territory when they can just come to South Korea aid very quickly from Japan or Guam. Why need to provoke China if you are not the aggressor. And Australia is so far away, not even close to China, why mention Australia?

  • Reply Ultra Mega July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Give each citizen of Taiwan ONE MILLION AMERICAN DOLLARS for taiwan, that's only 23 trillion dollars, and Taiwanese people will move elsewhere =p

  • Reply JW July 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    No. China's wealth for military build up from trade with USA and now USA is ending it. Xi made a mistake on the island in south eastern Asia.

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