With all the attention being paid to problems in the Middle East these days, its easy to lose sight of the military buildup in Asia.
Remember pre-9/11 assessments that the major threat looming on the horizon was a rising China? The first significant military confrontation the Bush administration faced was the mishap between a Chinese F-8 fighter and an American EP-3 surveillance plane in March 2001. The incident and its messy aftermath sent Sino-U.S. relations into a tailspin, cutting off mil-to-mil contacts and icing over diplomatic relations.
As Americas involvement in the Middle East and its commitments to the global war on terrorism increased, China continued its double-digit defense buildup.
While much of the reaction to China's increase in defense spending was dictated by domestic politics, there are real concerns about China's military intensions. China has been reluctant to disclose such information -- mostly out of fear that such a disclosure would remove any advantage it might have should a conflict over Taiwan break out. Still, Beijing does not want any suspicions over its army to lead to an unwanted conflict, so it has made greater efforts in the past year to air its military intentions.
Still, we need to keep in mind that even though the Chinese defense budget has posted huge increases for 19 years straight, its still only a fraction of the U.S. military budget in real terms. And the technical prowess of their purchases is generations behind American technology or even those of defense spendthrift Europe.
But the recent successful test firing of a Chinese anti-satellite missile has put that countrys military evolution back into the headlines. And intelligence officials still tell Congress Americas spooks are keeping a wary eye over their shoulder at the rising dragon in the East.