March 8, 2021 at 13:00 JST
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang speaks during the opening session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5. (AP Photo)
How can the world buy the narrative of “peaceful development” China is trying to sell?
Beijing keeps building up its military, and it is little surprise that neighboring countries are becoming increasingly anxious and wary about its motives.
The annual meeting of the National People’s Congress opened on March 5, and the draft national defense budget was released.
The budget for 2021 is 1,355.3 billion yuan (22.6 trillion yen, or $210 billion), up 6.8 percent from a year earlier.
It means China is spending on national defense more than any other country but the United States and about four times as much as Japan.
After two years of a slower rate of year-on-year growth, the 6.8-percent increase will be 0.2 percentage point higher than in 2020.
The Chinese economy grew at a modest 2.3 percent last year, although it recovered from the novel coronavirus pandemic faster than other countries.
The Communist Party set a target of “6 percent or more” economic growth for this year.
The defense budget will expand faster than the overall economic growth target. The announcement is another indicator that China is placing priority on beefing up its military muscle.
Premier Li Keqiang said the government will “enhance the military’s strategic capacity to protect the sovereignty, security and development interests of our country.”
But China’s military buildup can by no means be explained as an effort to defend itself. Another source of concern is a lack of transparency about details of its military expenditures.
It is not China but its neighbors that are facing security threats.
In a report published last autumn, the U.S. Department of Defense pointed out that the Chinese Navy now operates more vessels than the U.S. naval fleet.
China has made great strides in such areas as artificial intelligence, cyber and space technologies, and the number of its nuclear warheads has also steadily increased, according to the report.
What is the aim of Beijing’s military expansion? Four years ago, President Xi Jinping announced a goal of making China’s armed forces to be “world class” by the middle of this century. Last autumn, Xi called for building a modern military by 2027, the centennial of the founding of the People's Liberation Army.
These moves apparently signal Beijing’s ambition to gradually enhance its military power to match that of the United States.
The Chinese military has been engaged in alarming activities. In the South China Sea, it has carried out an increasing number of military drills and tests of new missiles.
Its provocative acts against Taiwan have also become more frequent, raising military tensions between China and the United States.
We are deeply concerned about the prospect of an intensifying arms race caused by a spiral of mistrust.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world the importance of cooperation to deal with global challenges that know no borders, such as prevention of infectious diseases and climate change.
No single country, no matter how powerful, can solve such problems on its own.
To protect the interests and safety of individual citizens, every nation needs to explore ways of overcoming these challenges through expansion of cooperation with the rest of the world.
If China claims that it is a “responsible” major power, what it should do now is not to expand its military power in a way that is intimidating to other countries.
What it needs to do is to play leadership roles in international initiatives on arms reduction and control to ease regional tensions.
China cannot hope to earn the respect of the world or help build peace and stability if it tries to establish itself as a global superpower by simply showing off its military capabilities.
--The Asahi Shimbun, March 7
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