'Breaking the rules-based order'


Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

While Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping were holding talks in Beijing, the U.S. Department of Defense released another official report on China’s military power. As a senior U.S. military official stated when presenting the report, «the People’s Republic of China continues its efforts to abolish the rules-based international order» and is building an increasingly effective army to achieve these goals. In this regard, it was emphasized that China is the only country in the world with the intent, the will, and the actual capability to achieve this goal.

Moreover, as the U.S. military said, as Chinese military power increases, the PRC is moving from words and demonstrations to deeds. This refers to the growing number of interceptions of U.S., allied and partner vessels and aircraft operating in the international air and sea routes of the Indo-Pacific region.

«Between fall 2021 and fall 2023, the United States recorded more than 180 cases of coercive and risky aerial interceptions of U.S. aircraft in the region», the official said.

If we include similar episodes with U.S. allies and partners, that number rises to 300.

Characteristically, the Americans, with their habit of managing the whole world and unscrupulously declaring territories and water areas as zones of their interests and «international routes», consider as such the Taiwan Strait, which is legally Chinese (and the U.S. officially recognizes this, considering Taiwan a part of the PRC). Without considering its military activity in Taiwan’s (legally Chinese) territorial waters and near Chinese borders dangerous, U.S. strategists note «China’s increasing military pressure on Taiwan, including overflights of Taiwan by Chinese ballistic missiles, an increase in the number of flights into Taiwan’s self-proclaimed air defense identification zone, as well as large-scale simulation of a joint blockade by all branches of the armed forces and massive military operations conducted after the visit of the U.S. delegation to the island».

The Pentagon is particularly concerned about China’s dynamic nuclear buildup. The report says that China is increasing the number of nuclear warheads, and now has about 500 of them on alert and continues to develop the latest means of their delivery, including ballistic missiles, bombers and submarines. In particular, as the Americans note, China has announced the adoption of the first bomber capable of aerial refueling, the H-6N, which is also a nuclear weapons carrier.

«They are expanding and investing in their land-, sea-, and air-based nuclear weapons delivery platforms, as well as the infrastructure needed to do so», the report states.

It is worth noting here that the Americans do not consider their 3,700 nuclear warheads of various types and kinds a threat to anyone. And the increase in the number of such warheads in other countries causes them extreme irritation. It should be recognized that the United States has abandoned its plan to insist on involving China in negotiations on strategic nuclear arms reduction. But this happened solely because of Beijing’s firm refusal to participate in them. And China’s position on this issue is simple and clear. It does not consider it possible to compare its warheads with American ones in terms of combat power, which is quite justified.

The Pentagon is also very concerned about the Chinese navy, which is numerically superior to all the fleets of the world — more than 370 ships and submarines. In addition, as indicated in the report, this year China launched its third modern aircraft carrier and third large landing ship. According to the assessment of U.S. strategists, the PLA Air Force is «rapidly catching up with Western air forces». At the same time, the Chinese Air Force continues to build up not only manned but also unmanned aircraft.

As it appears to the Pentagon, using among other things the One Belt, One Road initiative, China is actively seeking locations for its military bases around the world and expanding its military influence beyond its own borders.

Also, at a briefing on the report, a senior U.S. defense official said that China sees its transformation into a great power, including militarily, in an alliance with Russia.

Symbolically, this was said at a time when the leaders of China and Russia were meeting in Beijing. But that is not the only point. Although such Pentagon reports are always intended to scare not only the average person, but mainly the White House and Congress in order to get more appropriations, there is a lot of truth in this report about China’s military buildup. China is indeed making serious progress in defense and has set a goal of adding an adequate military component to its geopolitical influence and economic power. Technologically and financially it can do it. Last year, China’s defense budget grew by 7.1% compared to 2021 and reached $210 billion. This year, the figure rose to $224 billion. However, this is almost four times less than the US military expenditures.

In the next five years, at least, China’s nuclear capabilities will in no way reach the U.S. level in terms of both numbers and carriers. This makes China even more reliant on an alliance with Russia.

Although the two countries emphasize that there is no agreement on military mutual assistance between them, there are nevertheless a number of treaties in force that indicate military rapprochement. Among other things, Russia is helping China develop its own early warning system for missile attacks. This will strengthen China’s military power by an order of magnitude and will allow the two countries to exchange information in this area.

In the future, as China’s military efforts grow, it will assume an increasing role in deterring the American threat not only in the Asia-Pacific, but also in other regions of the world.

The United States, proceeding from its understanding of China as its main threat, will increasingly focus on confronting the PRC, including in the military sphere.