Rida Yamin is a graduate student of international relations from Punjab University. Her areas of interest include world politics, political economy, and hybrid warfare.
Amid the tensions between China and the US, the world is discussing Taiwan as a flashing point for the war between the two rivals, especially since China’s military maintains an aggressive stance. Experts say there is no chance of war as both nations do not want it. Both have their reasons. America, which indulges itself in many wars with other nations, faces criticism from both people and officials for the wastage of time, money, and assets of the nation.
After being criticized for its aimless foreign policy in Afghanistan and the Middle East, it is less likely that America will go for another war. On the other hand, China which fought its last war in 1979 in Vietnam seems to have an interest in economic foreign policy rather than achieving its goals through military means.
The question is then why both nations are advancing their military technology so fast? And the answer is simple: the military is the best power show for deterrence. It shows that damaging the nation’s sovereignty is not an easy task. It compels the other nations to take that country seriously. In the case of China, it worked since America considers China as its biggest security threat after its military modernization.
There are two sides when it comes to the US-China military tech race. One side says that China cannot challenge America despite its military technology advancement, the second holds that with the speed that China is advancing its military, it can, in 10 to 15 years, compete with the US on equal grounds.
Those who say China cannot challenge America say so because of mainly three reasons. First is that China’s military is leading America only in numbers, not in quality. In short, China’s military is large but not powerful. The second is that though China is advancing its military technology, it is still far behind America. The third is that China stole US technology to make its own; hence, China cannot make any technology that America hasn’t.
Sputnik Moment: Awe and Shock
But here comes the twist; in 2021, a Financial Times journalist Demetri Sevastopulo broke a story about China’s hypersonic glide vehicle which spread awe and shock among American generals. This reaction was not because America hadn’t made such technology yet but rather, because America did not expect it from China.
American General Mark Milley said it was a “Sputnik moment”. In August 2021 China launched a rocket into space that was carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle (that travels at five times the speed of sound). The vehicle not only completed its round around the globe but also fires a missile out of it which was shocking. It travels in low orbit and cannot be detected by a radar system.
China’s hypersonic capabilities compelled analysts to think about the chances of space strikes in the future. “China cannot challenge America” would’ve been a fair assumption 20 years back but not now.
How Did China Do This?
In 2021, China’s state-owned defense enterprises’ revenue started to increase compared to 2020. Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) became the sixth largest defense company in the world with an 18% increase in defense-related revenues.
Other companies like China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited, China North Industries Group Corporation Limited, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, and China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s revenue increased by 16%, 16%, 9%, and 12% respectively.
Moreover, the revenue of China Electronics Technology Group and China South Industries Group Corporation increased by 40% and 28% respectively. It simply means that China is throwing a lump sum into these companies to modernize its military.
Modernization of China’s Military
In May 2022, satellite pictures of China’s third aircraft carrier, which was under construction at the Shanghai shipyard, were published in Wall Street Journal. In June 2022, China officially launched the carrier with the name “Fujian.” It is a type 003 aircraft carrier that has three catapult launch systems through which China can now launch heavy aircrafts that it couldn’t in the past with the previous two aircraft carriers.
China is also strengthening its naval defense in the Indo-Pacific region by boosting its ship-building sector. China is the largest commercial shipbuilder. It produces 40% of the ships globally whereas, America and its European allies produce only 1%. According to analysts, China is already capable of winning conflicts in the first island chain in South China Sea.
Along with all of this, China has also an edge when it comes to how wars are fought in the 21st century. By pouring money into artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, internet of things (IoT), robotics, and cyber technologies, China is securing its leverage on America in information or cyber warfare. China believes that only those countries will thrive in the future as superpowers who will have control over information. And China is preparing for it, China calls it “intelligentized” warfare.
Why America is Worried
Undoubtedly, China has exceeded America in many areas by making cutting-edge technologies. There are many grounds on which China is lacking, but American analysts highlight the fact that if America does not redefine its foreign policy, China will beat America in the next 5 to 10 years. Analysts emphasize that America is losing ground in STEM education, the R&D sector, and industrial policy.
STEM education is vital for the technological advancement of any country. According to the Program for International Student Assessment, Chinese teenagers ranked first for science and mathematics while the United States ranked eighteenth and thirty-first, respectively.
China has produced more STEM PhDs than the United States since the mid-2000s and is projected to triple the number of Americans receiving those degrees by 2025 when excluding international students studying in the United States. China now boasts the top computer science and engineering university in the world, Tsinghua University, along with five out of fifteen of the top computer science programs and eight out of fifteen of the top engineering programs.
A nation that wishes to be a technological hegemon must also develop strategic plans and invest significant funds in research and development (R&D). In 1960, the US accounted for 69% of the world’s R&D funding, by 2019, its share of expenditures was only about 30%. Meanwhile, China’s share of global investment has risen from 5% in 2000 to 24% in 2019.
China, prioritizes science and technology, apparent in its fifteen-year Medium and Long-Term Plan for Science and Technology Development, New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, and Made in China 2025. Most importantly private technology companies and industrial policy are critical enablers of national technological advancement.
American industrial policy since the Cold War has aimed to consolidate large defense technology contractors, resulting in less competition and innovation. These private tech companies cannot think strategically rather their top concern is profit. Whereas, in China, there is civil-military fusion (MCF) strategy for industries that enable defense companies to make technology that is needed the most.
When the technical expertise of private companies met with the strategic expertise of the military, it results in more efficient technology for national defense. The practical scenario is that Americans are fighting with their domestic airline industries about implementing 5G internet and the Chinese are already progressing onward to 6G internet through which they will be able to build more advanced hypersonic vehicles.
Military Budget vs Priorities
US military budget is $777 million which is far more than China’s $230 million. But it doesn’t mean that China’s military is not powerful. It is all about the different interests of both nations. America tends to be a global guardian whereas China focuses on regional supremacy.
China considers the economy a gateway to domination and that’s why it has only one military base in Djibouti, whereas America has bases all around the world. When America was busy fighting aimless wars in the Middle East and wasting its assets, China’s military was not only strengthening itself but also advancing.
Today the world is investing money in new technologies that will change the course of warfare in the future. For example, advanced drones, anti-drones systems, energy-directed weapons in land defense, advanced aircraft carrier ships, nuclear submarines, and submarine hunters in naval defense. hypersonic weapons, anti-satellite systems in space, AI, quantum computing, machine learning, and IoT in information. Let’s see who will rule these technologies fast and secure its position as a superpower in the future
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