Publication: The Military Balance 2014
05 February 2014
Across Asia, continuing efforts to strengthen military capabilities have taken place against rising strategic tensions among major powers in the region, including the United States. China’s efforts to improve its military capabilities in 2012–13 were wide-ranging and reflected, among other factors, its continued economic growth. Chinese sources also expressed concern over the military dimensions of the US ‘rebalance’ to the Asia-Pacific, which was widely interpreted – in the region, as well as in Beijing – as a thinly disguised effort to contain and balance China’s growing power and strategic extroversion (see p. 206).
While there was much regional and international interest in China’s potential use of its growing military power in relation to maritime disputes, the primary focus of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for force development and operational planning almost certainly remained Taiwan. In October, Taiwan’s 2013 National Defense Report highlighted the impact of China’s growing military strength on US ability to assist the island should Beijing decide to mount an offensive: indeed, the report claimed that by 2020 China could be in a position to invade and occupy Taiwan. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s defence budget was strained by the dual imperatives of military reform (including the establishment of all-volunteer armed forces, scheduled for late 2016) and major procurement programmes. The most important of these has been the upgrade of 145 F-16A/Bs, procured in the 1990s, with new equipment, including active electronically scanned array radars.
China’s diplomatic pressure and deployment of maritime paramilitary forces in support of its claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, along with continuing concern in Tokyo over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and aggressive behaviour, contributed significantly to a more assertive Japanese posture on security matters, particularly after the landslide election victory in December 2012 of Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.