Written by Staff Writer, CNN
As the world’s two superpowers arm themselves with more and more sophisticated weapons and military hardware, Asia is entering a new period of “post-Cold War” — a period of heightened military tension and competition, according to analysts.
“Asia is particularly problematic for all of the signals that are pointing in the direction of a post-Cold War era with heightened military competition in the Western Pacific and some rising tensions in the South China Sea,” said Kaveh Afrasiabi, a freelance defense analyst based in Washington, DC.
Afrasiabi told CNN that not only has the region witnessed an escalation in military spending, there has also been a “learning curve” as the countries focused on Asia-specific technologies.
“In order to gain an upper hand on their competitors, the island nations like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines are developing military hardware that can easily be air-dropped onto the island, if confronted by their respective air forces and traditional forces,” he said.
Jae Won-ha / REUTERS China has become a nuclear superpower, and is now the world’s second-largest military spender, ahead of the United States.
“For example, their modern jet fighters can be packed into transport planes, and essentially they can paralyze a potential adversary via air-to-air missiles. Just like China, they can also upgrade older fighter jets so they have much more accurate air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles.”
In 2016, the US Department of Defense announced that it would triple military spending to $700 billion, its highest level since World War II. Last year, it also released annual reports on its seven regional allies including South Korea, Japan, Australia, India, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand.
The documents examine the military threats the allies face, such as the countries’ stockpiles of weapons, advanced air and missile defenses, and overall readiness. This report echoed the conclusions of the Pentagon’s 2016 “10-Year Force Structure Plan”, which stated that the US was the “world’s No. 2 military spender” at $718 billion.
Projections by the US Department of Defense account for the total amount of spending by the US and its allies.
China again makes history
China became the world’s second-largest military spender in 2016, a feat which was largely achieved without significant military increases over the past decade.
The country’s expenditures have been increasing by around 13% year on year. In contrast, they increased by around 6% to $207 billion last year alone.
According to Afrasiabi, China’s increased military spending has been helped by foreign suppliers.
“Most of China’s major weapon systems are largely homegrown, but are often technological transfers,” he explained. “In the case of stealth jets, for example, most of these are imported from Russia. That is the case for their large attack helicopter fleet as well.”
“In Korea, for example, they bought their KF-X (generation) fighter jet exclusively from Russia.”
Both the Philippines and India make purchases on a semi-annual basis in order to be equipped for rapid deployment and deterrence.
Afrasiabi told CNN that “there are now increased tensions across Asia, specifically in the South China Sea, which is no longer a purely internal issue between China and Vietnam and the Philippines, but has sparked an arms race between all the countries affected.”
A second generation Chinese aircraft carrier, seen here during a test cruise at Dalian Bay, China, in 2017. Credit: COHENG SHAN/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
China and Vietnam have been engaged in a tense territorial dispute in the South China Sea. In June, Vietnam deployed two of its new SS-N-6 surface-to-air missile systems to a stretch of coastline just off China’s southern coast.
“If the Philippines or Vietnam start finding conventional air defenses more effective in the South China Sea, it is potentially setting up the Chinese navy for another escalation,” Afrasiabi warned.
Beyond areas of dispute, he said that “a growing focus by Asian countries on bolstering capabilities to support domestic security is directly related to their concerns of Beijing’s greater strategic potential, as well as the desire to ward off invasion by Chinese proxies.”
The Department of Defense’s Pacific Maritime Command in Washington, DC, works to protect US interests and navigation in the area.