China’s massive military spending is creating a ripple effect across the Asia-Pacific region

  • With a defence budget second only to the US, China is amassing a navy that can circle the globe and developing state-of-the-art autonomous drones
  • The build-up is motivating surrounding countries to bolster their own armed forces, even if some big-ticket military equipment is of dubious necessity
Topic |   South China Sea

The Asia-Pacific region is one of the fastest-growing markets for arms dealers, with economic growth, territorial disputes and long-sought military modernisation propelling a 52 per cent increase in defence spending over the last decade to US$392 billion in 2018, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The region accounts for more than one-fifth of the global defence budget and is expected to grow.

In his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan touted American advancements in technology “critical to deterring and defeating the threats of the future” and said any partner could choose to win access to that technology by joining the US defence network.

Wong said the message was clear: “Buy American.”

Analysts say Chinese soldiers have less training, motivation and lower morale than their Western counterparts. Photo: Reuters
Analysts say Chinese soldiers have less training, motivation and lower morale than their Western counterparts. Photo: Reuters
The analyst said there is a growing admission among the Chinese leadership that the PLA has an Achilles’ heel: its own personnel.
He said one executive at a Chinese defence firm told him: “The individual Chinese soldier, in terms of morale, training, education and motivation, (cannot match) Western counterparts. So the only way to level up is through the use of unmanned platforms.”

To that end, China has developed one of the world’s most sophisticated drone programmes, complete with custom-built weapon systems. By comparison, Wong said, US drones rely on weapons originally developed for helicopters.

Wong got to see one of the Chinese drones in action two years ago after cultivating a relationship with its builder, the state-owned China Aerospace Science & Technology Corporation. He viewed a demonstration of a 28-foot-long CH-4 drone launching missiles at a target with uncanny ease and precision.

“Everyone knew they had this,” Wong said. “But how effective it was, nobody knew. I could personally vouch they got it down pat.”

China unveils its answer to US Reaper drone – how does it compare?

That is what Bernard Loo Fook Weng, a military expert at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told the author Robert Kaplan for his 2014 book, Asia’s Cauldron, about simmering tensions in the South China Sea.

Type 218 submarines with propulsion systems that negate the need to surface more frequently. If the crew did not need to eat, the submarine could stay under water for prolonged periods. Wong said the craft were specially built for Asian crews.

“The older subs were designed for larger Europeans so the ergonomics were totally off,” he said.

the country dedicates 3.3 per cent of its gross domestic product to defence, a rate higher than that of the United States.

State-of-the-art equipment defines the Singapore Armed Forces. Automation is now at the centre of the country’s military strategy, as available manpower is shrinking because of a rapidly ageing population.

Wong said Singapore is investing in autonomous systems and can operate frigates with 100 crew members – 50 fewer than they were originally designed for.

“We always have to punch above our weight,” he said.

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