Gearing up in Asia: Military Ties and Expenditures


August 10, 2012 03:46 EDT

China's increased spending on military material causes concern among neighboring countries.


Asia is gearing up this year, with China becoming the continent’s new leading military spending power. China, Japan and India rank 2nd, 6th and 7th respectively in the list of the 10 countries with the most military spending in 2011. Whereas the US cut down their expenses in 2011 due to the imminent withdrawal of the US military from Iraq as well as Afghanistan, and the financial crisis put a dampener on Europe’s defense spending, Asia and Oceania have increased their military expenditure by an estimated 2.3%. Trends show that this number is likely to increase during the next few years as Asia’s defense spending is set to be even higher than Europe’s this year.

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China has spent an estimated $143 billion on their military in 2011. The country’s excessive spending has caused concern in the surrounding regions and many steps have been taken to counter this new potential superpower. China’s increase in military expenditures has lead to other countries in the Asia Pacific to follow suit with Japan, South Korea and India as the forerunners. Strategic attention has also been drawn to Asia, with the US announcing their new strategy, famously titled the US “pivot” to Asia, to expand their military presence and enhance relations in Asia.

The upgrading does not only have far reaching implications for an increasingly strained mood in the Asia Pacific, but it also brings complex military ties and old, historical scars to the surface. South Korea and Japan still feel anxious towards each other, as the anti-Japanese sentiment has not faded by much since the Korean Peninsula’s occupation by the Japanese in the first half of the 20th century. Meanwhile, Vietnam and the Philippines have endeavored to deepen their ties over the decades and also teamed up in the ASEAN sphere to work against China’s interests. With the tensions in the South China heating up, Vietnam and the Philippines have both reached out to their American ally, who has become a vital friend over the years.   

Why are Military Ties and Expenditures in Asia Relevant?

The increase in spending goes in line with the economic growth in Asia. However, the tensions in the South China Sea as well as several border disputes between countries are the main reasons for the increased military expenditure. While on the one hand many Asian countries simply feel the need to protect themselves, the military upgrading on the other hand is establishing a new regional balance as countries assert their claims for new regional power. Military ties are decisive for the faith of the involved countries and even if the rise in military spending does not bring about an Asian arms race, the rivalry and tensions are inducing an atmosphere of gloom in the Asia Pacific region.

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