Peter Brookes: Alarm bells ringing over China’s growing military

Once again this year, one of the most under-reported stories has been China’s unprecedented, ongoing military buildup — a buildup that’s rattling security nerves not only in capitals across Asia, but in Washington, D.C., too.

Sure, there was plenty of print about China’s shaky economic state, its sneaky cyberespionage, its belching of greenhouse gases and its clamoring claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, including building seven islands over reefs and rocky outcrops.

And rightfully so.

But there hasn’t been enough ink dedicated (outside of the security field) to China’s growing military might, which is the biggest strategic challenge we’ll face in the coming decades.

That includes Russia, in my view.

Beijing is using coffers of cash to build a high-technology military and defense establishment that could come to challenge America’s long-standing preeminence in the Pacific — and beyond — over time.

A lot of what has transpired this year is, fortunately, captured in the annual report of the bipartisan, congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, or USCC.

The 600-page tome, which covers both economic and security issues in some depth, is worth a full read (www.uscc.gov), but let me highlight a few points readers and informed voters should be aware of:

• In 2015, China’s defense budget rose 10 percent; no surprise there, considering its near double-digit (10 percent or more) defense budget growth every year since 1989 — that’s almost three decades;

• Beijing is now a top civilian/military space power with nearly 150 satellites. Equally alarming, with its development of anti-satellite systems, it’ll be able to hold U.S. satellites at risk in every orbit;

• The Chinese military is sending part of its nuclear ICBM force to sea aboard ballistic missile submarines; it fielded the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile, designed to sink U.S. aircraft carriers;

• Its navy is building lots of modern subs and ships and now has an aircraft carrier  — with more on the way, eventually allowing China to project plenty of power far from home;

• China is now the world’s third-largest arms exporter after the United States and Russia, increasingly selling more advanced weapons systems; and,

• Beijing will build its first overseas military base in the East African nation of Djibouti, strategically located where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa.

So what does this mean?

The USCC concludes that due to Beijing’s “comprehensive and rapid military modernization,” the regional balance of power between the United States and China is shifting in Beijing’s direction.

Basically, though China is currently no match for the United States militarily, it’s working on it — hard.

Of course, though Beijing and Washington could find their way into a fight over the East or South China seas, North Korea or Taiwan, neither country wants that considering the potentially wide-ranging consequences.

The problem is that, as China develops these military capabilities and competencies, it may be more willing to use them in support of its perceived — and growing — global interests.

Those national interests, of course, may not be in line with those of the United States, its allies or its friends, making paying close and constant attention to China’s military might all the more important.

This article first appeared in the Boston Herald. Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a Fort Valley resident. Follow him on Twitter @Brookes_Peter. Email: BrookesOutdoors@gmail.com.