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A few days ago, the Office of the Secretary of Defence in Washington issued its annual report on Military and Security Developments Involving the Peoples Republic of China 2015. This is a sobering document, appearing within days of a contingent of Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers marching past Russian leader Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping in Moscow’s huge Victory Day parade. At the same time, and for the first time, Chinese navy ships are engaging in live-fire exercises in the Mediterranean Sea alongside Russian warships.
The authoritative U.S. document notes that Beijing’s defence expenditures continue to increase by 9.5 per cent a year, as they have done for the past decade. The Defense report concludes that China remains focused on the possibility of conflict in the Taiwan Straits — it has 400,000 soldiers, sailors and air personnel in the area — and in the East and South China Seas, with substantial military buildups also continuing there.
The South China Sea archipelago of the Spratly Islands, claimed by Beijing, are undergoing extensive “land reclamation,” China creating what is now a 2,000 acre landmass out of what were hitherto essentially underwater shoals.
Naval vessels will soon be able to dock there, and an airstrip is all but certain to be constructed. As the South China Sea is thought be ripe for mineral and oil exploitation and as parts of it are claimed by several Asian nations, this is a dangerous flashpoint, an area where Beijing’s “low-intensity coercion” can be expected to increase. In response, the Philippines and Vietnam are doing “land reclamation” projects of their own.
But China is also interested in more than its periphery, as the Mediterranean naval exercises confirm. The American report notes that Chinese intercontinental ballistic missiles can now reach targets in all of the United States, except for Florida. That capability, of course, includes reaching all of Canada too. Moreover, the People’s Liberation Army now fields MIRV missiles, carrying multiple nuclear warheads, and 42,000 drones are being purchased.
The air force has new stealth fighters, reportedly based on stolen technology, and it is said to have plans to sell some such fighters abroad, part of China’s rapidly growing arms export trade. China already dominates the African arms market.
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