Austin Bay

The Pentagon just released its annual report to Congress on China's military. Weapons programs got ink, especially its cyberwar programs, its expanding navy, ballistic missile projects. The report summarized China's strategic priorities as "perpetuating Communist Party rule, sustaining economic growth and development, maintaining domestic political stability, defending China's national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and securing China's status as a great power."

At the moment, the United States and China have numerous military and defense-related disagreements. Discussions among Pacific region defense ministers held in Singapore this June made that clear. America's Secretary of Defense Robert Gates insisted that North Korea's sinking of a South Korean warship last March required a rigorous response by all nations that are committed to peace in Asia. He was challenging China, which has hedged criticism of North Korea. China remains miffed at U.S. plans to help Taiwan modernize its defense forces.

This month, the United States and Vietnam conducted joint naval exercises off Vietnam's coast in the South China Sea. China recently rejected a Vietnamese diplomatic initiative intended to resolve territorial disputes in the region. A senior Chinese defense official called the exercises provocative.

When the global super power and Asia's regional giant chide and argue, the world ought to pay attention. However, that media focus -- U.S. versus China -- can distort.

A quick tour of China's borders suggests friction with the United States is a symptom, not a cause. China faces numerous troubles with its neighbors -- many of the problems exacerbated by Beijing's muscle-flexing and claims of regional hegemony. (China's internal challenges will be the subject of a future column.)

India is China's foremost regional competitor. The economic competition receives the most media coverage, but the military dimension concerns Beijing. China sees India's nuclear weapons, new ballistic missiles and naval buildup as strategic challenges. China continually frets over access to natural resources. The Indian Navy is positioned to interdict ships transporting oil and minerals from the Middle East and Africa to China. India also sees China as a threat. According to (July 13), the Indian Air Force's Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (equivalent to the U.S. Navy's "Top Gun" program) now features Chinese air tactics and aircraft. Indian pilots train to fight Chinese pilots.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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