US President Donald Trump’s defense budget request for fiscal year 2019, released Monday, asked for $686.1 billion in military spending, up 12.1 percent from the previous fiscal year. The budget also called for a 2.6 percent raise for US military service members. If approved by the US congress, the latest US defense budget would become the first significant jump in US military spending in recent years, when the budget mostly stayed stagnant.
The proposed US defense budget followed the Trump administration’s overall national security strategy, which stresses potential military threats from China and Russia. Defense Department Comptroller and Chief Financial Officer David Norquist reiterated such views when explaining the reasons behind the increased budget.
"It is increasingly apparent that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian values, and in the process, replace the free and open order that has enabled global security and prosperity since World War II. We recognize that, if unaddressed, the eroding US military advantage versus China and Russia could undermine our ability to deter aggression and coercion in key strategic regions," Norquist said.
Quality Over Quantity
Despite growing hostility and harsher rhetoric from US officials, including Trump, China is unlikely to engage in an arms race with the United States, Chinese military experts told Sputnik.
"Facing challenges from the United States, China would continue to follow its planned rhythm or policy to handle such competitions. No matter what the United States says or does, China would continue to do things in accordance with its plans. We would not dance following the [conductor’s] baton from the United States," Xu Guangyu, a retired general and senior consultant with the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association in Beijing, told Sputnik.
The Beijing-based expert stressed that China’s military strategy focuses on the quality of its weapons, instead of quantity.
"China would focus on competing against the United States on quality. We cannot fall behind in terms of technology. But in terms of the size or numbers service members of the military, we would not try to ‘strike a balance’ with them. For example, they [the United States] have thousands of nuclear warheads. We would not be so foolish as to spend a lot of money on such weapons that lie dormant in the storage facilities. If the accuracy and power of our missiles are strong, it’s enough for us, because one of our missiles would equal ten missiles from the United States," Xu said.
The former Chinese military official added that this military strategy from China could help the nation reduce heavy financial burdens from a large military budget and continue to provide necessary deterrence capabilities.
Different National Strategies
The key highlight of Trump’s new defense budget comes from increased spending on acquisition of military hardware, including aircraft, missile defense systems and advanced naval vessels. According to the budget, about $236.7 billion is expected to be allocated toward such military acquisitions.
Xu, the Beijing-based military expert, explained that China’s military strategy differs from the United States, because Beijing focuses on regional strength while Washington continues to seek global dominance.
"There’s still a large gap between the military strength of China and the United States. We don’t have the same kind of global strategy, where the United States needs 11-12 aircraft carrier groups. Our strategy focuses on regional strength. We want to be able to protect ourselves in the West Pacific region. As the United States described it, we are against external interference in the region. For us, 4-5 aircraft carrier battle groups can already serve this purpose," he said.
Avoid Accidential Conflicts
Despite the fact that China and the United States are expected to continue to compete militarily, especially in the Asia Pacific region, both nations would try their best to avoid accidental conflicts that could easily escalate military standoffs to devastating warfare, Chinese military experts suggested.
"In general, both sides are just trying to present a strong posture. They need to continue to demonstrate their strength. But there is a bottom line, which is no formal warfare between the two nations in the foreseeable future. They would even try to avoid any ‘accidental discharge’ [of weapons]. Based on this bottom line, they could perform as much as they can to show off their strength through military exercises or harsh rhetoric," Ni Lexiong, a military expert at the University of Politics and Law in Shanghai, told Sputnik.
The Shanghai-based military expert added that demonstrations of military strength from both China and the United States mostly serve political purposes or their foreign policy needs.
Nations in the Region Could Benefit
Amid growing competition between China and the United States in the Asia Pacific Region, smaller nations in the region would probably try to stay neutral and even try to benefit from the conflict, Ni, the Beijing-based the Chinese military expert argued.
"The smart nations could try to take advantage of the conflict between China and the United States and try to seek benefits from both nations. At the current stage of the conflict, they’re happy to take advantage of both nations. The best scenario for those nations is to stay neutral and try to do business with both sides. For example, Singapore has been playing this game for over 20 years," he said.
However, the expert noted that nations in the region would face a difficult choice and could be forced to pick a side if China and the United States indeed engage in a military conflict.
"This is also a dangerous game, because once a real military conflict breaks out, they have to pick a side. This would put them in a very difficult situation. For example, during the World War II, Belgium also tried to stay neutral when Germany wanted to attack France. But the German attack plan had to get around Belgium to reach France. After negotiations failed, Germany decided to attack Belgium first. For the smaller nations trying to stay neutral, it still depends on what kind of relations it has with the bigger nations," Ni said.
The expert pointed out that Pakistan could face such difficult choices in case of a future military conflict between China and the United States, as Beijing may demand Islamabad to grant access to one of its ports after oil supplies through the Strait of Malacca are cut off as a result of conflict.
The views and opinions expressed by the speakers do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.