Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Keeping an Eye on the Long Game: Part LXV

Now and then, there is a good summary article that comes out that serves as a nice tonic to some of the more alarmist writing that pops up about China's growing military might.

Kyle Mizokami over at WiB has a great example of the breed. 

Yes, they are getting stronger ... but ...

Read it all, but if you need just enough to get you to your next cup of coffee, here's a taste;
By some calculations, in 2013 China spent more on “public security”—Internet censorship, law enforcement and the paramilitary People’s Armed Police—than it did on external defense. China’s internal security budget for 2014 is a secret, leading to speculation that once again, the Chinese Communist Party is spending more to defend itself from its own people than from other countries.

The Party knows what it’s doing. Many Chinese are unhappy living under a totalitarian regime. Environmental damage, labor abuses, corruption and land grabs can—and do—quickly escalate into riots.

On top of that, China must contend with low-level unrest in the far western province of Xinjiang—where ethnic Uighurs resent colonization by the rest of China—and in Tibet.

Under the status quo, China has no choice but to spend so heavily on public security. While that’s bad for the Chinese people, it’s actually a good thing for the region. Much of the military might that Beijing buys every year gets directed inward and never projects externally.
The other 7,130 Chinese tanks—some of which are pictured here—are the same descendants of Soviet T-55s that comprised Beijing’s armored force in the late 1980s … and were obsolete even then.
Of 1,321 fighters, only 502 are modern—296 variants of the Russian Su-27 and 206 J-10s of an indigenous design. The remaining 819 fighters—mostly J-7s, J-8s and Q-5s—are 1960s designs built in the 1970s.
The navy is in the best shape, but that’s not saying much. ... its first aircraft carrier Liaoning is a rebuilt Soviet ship from the 1980s.
Liaoning is half the size of an American Nimitz-class supercarrier and carries half as many planes. As Liaoning lacks a catapult, China’s J-15 naval fighters must use a ski ramp to take off—and that limits their payload and range.
Just over half of China’s 54 submarines are modern—that is, built within the last 20 years. Beijing’s modern undersea fleet includes the Shang, Han, Yuan and Song classes. All four classes are Chinese-built. All are markedly inferior to Western designs.
The PLAN halted production of the nuclear-powered Shang class after only building just three boats—an ominous sign. Moreover, Beijing has placed an order with Russia for up to four Kalina-class subs, signalling a lack of faith in local designs.
China is never as strong or as weak as she seems, so I wouldn't write her of if things turn ... but odds favor a "Peak China" not too far in the future.

The authors end with a point we have raised here, and even more in our China specific episodes of Midrats. This really is the long pole in the Chinese Yurt.
“China will grow old before it gets rich”... The same demographic wave that has gifted China with an abundance of labor will soon also transform the country into the world’s biggest retirement home.

... Today China has 16 retirees per 100 workers. Projections see that increasing to 64 retirees per 100 workers by 2050, resulting a much grayer population than in America.

This has indirect—but serious—implications for China’s defense. Most Chinese do not have retirement benefits and in their old age must rely on personal savings or family … a difficult proposition when there is only one child to take care of two parents.

If Beijing wants to preserve household savings and productivity, it will have to build some kind of social welfare system. And that means making some difficult choices.

China’s borders are secure. The U.S., Japan and India cannot bring down the Chinese government. But tens of millions of desperate Chinese families could do so—and just might, if Beijing can’t find some way to care for them as they age.

China has nuclear weapons. It’s ruled by a deeply nationalistic, authoritarian regime with a history of brutality towards its own citizens. It has territorial claims that clash with those of other countries—and a defense budget rising by eight percent annually. It’s wise to keep a watchful eye on China.

Yet China is a hobbled giant with many deep, systemic problems. Some of these problems—particularly the technological ones—are solvable. The demographic issue is not. And it’s the biggest reason the paper dragon does not pose a major threat to the rest of the world over the long term.

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