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China Increases Defense Spending       04/24 07:00

   QINGDAO, China (AP) -- China's navy commissioned 17 new warships last year, 
the most of any nation. In a little more than a decade, it's expected to have 
three aircraft carriers, giving it more clout than ever in a region of 
contested seas and festering territorial disputes.

   Those numbers testify to huge increases in defense spending that have 
endowed China with the largest military budget behind the United States and 
fueled an increasingly large and sophisticated defense industry. While Beijing 
still lags far behind the U.S. in both funding and technology, its spending 
boom is attracting new scrutiny at a time of severe cuts in U.S. defense 
budgets that have some questioning Washington's commitments to its Asian 
allies, including some who have lingering disputes with China.

   Beijing's newfound military clout is one of many issues confronting 
President Barack Obama as he visits the region this week. Washington is faced 
with the daunting task of fulfilling its treaty obligations to allies such as 
Japan and the Philippines, while also maintaining cordial relation with key 
economic partner and rising regional power China.

   China's boosted defense spending this year grew 12.2 percent to $132 
billion, continuing more than two decades of nearly unbroken double-digit 
percentage increases that have afforded Beijing the means to potentially alter 
the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific. Outside observers put China's actual 
defense spending significantly higher, although estimates vary widely.

   Increases in spending signal "strength and resolve to China's neighbors," 
requiring other countries to pay close attention to where Beijing is assigning 
its resources, said China defense expert Abraham Denmark, vice president for 
political and security affairs at the U.S-based National Bureau of Asian 
Research.

   At the same time, the U.S. military is seeking to redirect resources to the 
Asia-Pacific as it draws down its defense commitment in Afghanistan, although 
officers warn that budget cuts could potentially threaten plans to base 60 
percent of U.S. naval assets to the region. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. 
Jonathan Greenert recently warned that U.S. capabilities to project power 
"would not stay ahead" of those of potential adversaries, given the fiscal 
restraints.

   Meanwhile, China's navy is rapidly developing into a force to contend with 
the U.S., long the dominant military player in the Asia-Pacific region.

   China commissioned its first aircraft carrier --- a refurbished Ukrainian 
hull --- in 2012, and another two indigenous carriers are expected to enter 
service by 2025, significantly increasing Beijing's ability to project power 
into the South China Sea that it claims virtually in its entirety.

   Analysts say China will have as many as 78 submarines by 2020, part of an 
expansion that has seen it leap past the U.S. and Russia in numbers of warships 
delivered annually, according to experts and available figures.

   "That's very much in line with the leadership's call for China to become a 
major military-industrial power," said Tai Ming Cheung, director of the 
Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, 
San Diego.

   By comparison, the U.S. Navy takes on about 10 major vessels per year, while 
Russia averages slightly less.

   Despite the impressive hardware, uncertainty still surrounds the 
capabilities of China's armed forces, which haven't seen significant combat 
since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Home-grown technologies have yet to be 
tested in battle, and training and organization are hampered by a risk-adverse 
attitude and overemphasis on political indoctrination that reflects the 
People's Liberation Army's essential role as the defender of the ruling 
Communist Party.

   "Being the world leader is all about software and networking," said Denny 
Roy, an expert on the Chinese military at the East-West Center in Hawaii, 
referring to problems with China's command structure and communications.

   Concerns about Chinese aggression focus on three scenarios: An attack on 
self-governing island democracy Taiwan that China claims as its own territory; 
an attempt to seize uninhabited East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but 
claimed by China; and a move to drive off claimants to waters and islands 
claimed by China in the South China Sea.

   All those situations pose considerable risks for Beijing, ranging from a 
lack of transport and resupply capabilities, to the near certainty of the 
formidable U.S. military responding in defense of its allies. Japan and the 
Philippines are U.S. treaty partners, while American law requires Washington to 
respond to threats against Taiwan.

   Although tensions with Japan have grown sharper over the islands dispute, 
Beijing takes great pains to play down the impact its military may have on the 
region. Its explanations about its military buildup, however, mix a proclaimed 
desire for closer cooperation with prickly nationalism.

   Addressing navy chiefs from two dozen nations gathered at a forum in the 
eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao on Wednesday, one of China's most powerful 
generals said China is committed to maintain peace and stability but would 
never compromise its national interests.

   "No country should expect China to swallow the bitter pill of compromising 
our sovereignty rights, national security and development interests," said Fan 
Changlong, vice chairman of the Communist Party's Central Military Commission.


(KA)


 
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