5Theory and practice—a comparative look at China’s new defence White Paper 5
The United States, on the other hand, is concerned about transparency. The QDR
states that while the United States welcomes a stronger China playing a greater
role in regional and world affairs, it is worried about a lack of transparency regarding
the pace and scope of China’s modernisation program, decision-making system,
and its ultimate aims and long term intentions (pp. 31, 60). The US is worried
about growing Chinese power projection platforms and the long-term intentions for
these capabilities, and remains unsatisfied by Chinese insistence that its military
modernisation is purely defensive in nature. American concerns about ‘a number
of states’ developing anti-access capabilities is the flip-side of CND10’s concerns
about ‘some states’ being able to launch prompt global strikes.
CND10 and the QDR do have some good things to say about Sino–US relations.
They both mention consultations, military dialogues and open communication. The
preface to CND10 observes that:
China has now stood at a new historical point, and its future and destiny has never
been more closely connected with those of the international community. … China
maintains its commitment to the new security concepts of mutual trust, mutual benefit,
equality and coordination (p. 3).
The QDR echoes similar sentiments:
America’s interests are inextricably linked to the integrity and resilience of the
international system. Chief among these interests are security, prosperity, broad
respect for universal values, and an international order that promotes cooperative
action (p. iv).
However, it is in the nature of military planning to prepare for the worst and the
overall tone in both documents is one of caution and suspicion. There is nothing
in either to suggest that ASPI was wrong in previously observing that ‘at least to
some extent, [the two sides are] configuring their militaries to fight one another’.
Consultations and dialogues are more useful in resolving conflicts of understanding
than conflicts of national interest.
To the extent that tensions can arise from
misunderstanding, talks, exercises and exchanges are useful. When they arise
from inherent perceptions of national interest, they are much harder to manage.
A comparison of the declaratory policies in the QDR and CND10 provide an insight
into the ‘worst cases’ of the militaries on either side of the Pacific and the rhetorical
strategic competition that is going on. However, a look at the resources available to
turn rhetoric into reality reveals a different picture.
As expected, Chinese defence expenditure is set to increase in real terms for the
2011 year. The declared budget is RMB 532 billion (US$81.8 billion at the current
exchange rate). That corresponds to a nominal increase of 8% or a real increase
of a little over 4%. CND10 notes that ‘the growth rate of defense expenditure
has decreased’—but that is compared to a probably unsustainable average real
increase of more than 14% over the previous two years.
By any measure, Chinese defence expenditure has increased markedly since the
mid-1990s. China’s own figures show a trebling of the defence budget since 1999
(albeit from a low base—Chinese defence spending was less than 1% of GDP in
the mid-1990s). Also, many outside observers regard the Chinese self-reported
figure as an underestimate. Figure 1 shows Chinese numbers over the twelve most
recent years, compared to United States Department of Defense (DoD) estimates,
which are more than double the Chinese figures. (Interestingly, the average rate
of growth implied by the US Department of Defense numbers is less than China
admits to, but still shows an increase of more than two and a half times since 1999.)