- Corruption and organizational structure. China is well-known for its culture of corruption. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is de jure a separate entity from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which means there is essentially no civilian oversight (Chase, Michael et al., p. 48), and essentially created a civil-military gap (p. 45). The PLA's budget is approved without any real discussion as to what the budget entails (p. 47), so it is no surprise that the PLA is going to be riddled with inefficiencies. Corruption is effectively an indirect tax because it decreases the efficiency of spending. China's significantly higher level of corruption means that it would need to spend a lot more money on the military than the United States to even become close to outpacing the United States military. Looking at the proceeding points, I find that to be highly improbable.
- Estimating military size. Because of its corruption, China lacks the transparency needed for good governance. This is evident in trying to estimate the size of China's military because China's government estimates are infamously unreliable. In spite of whatever grandstanding the Chinese government might be doing, they could very well be overestimating their numbers.
- Basic military strategy and geography. But let's assume that the high range of the military's budget of $132B is accurate, a figure that is less than a third of what the United States' expenditures on military spending. China is still at a disadvantage. Why?
- For one, the United States has much more actual experience in military operations. By extension, the United States has military posts throughout the world, and is able to be much more responsive with its extensive military network. This also means that China does not have the same military network to deploy troops and carry out operations that would greatly expand its military clout.
- Even if China were to go on the offensive, it means that China would most probably be attacking a coastline (e.g., Taiwan, Japan). Defending a coastline is much easier than attacking it, and given that the coastline is going to have U.S. military force, it would be all more difficult for the PLA to succeed.
- Nuclear deterrence can be a wonderful thing, which is something the United States has. Whether or not China has second-strike capabilities, the fear of mutually assured destruction (MAD) can be adequate to make sure China doesn't agitate the United States.
- Under the neorealist school of thought in international relations, balance of power theory states that national security is enhanced when one state is not so powerful that it dominates all the others. I don't subscribe to this school of thought in its entirety, but if we're so worried about balance of power, there are plenty of countries who have been historic rivals that would want to contain China's growing influence on a regional level. To name a few: India, Japan, Russia, and Pakistan. Russia's concern is going to be contingent upon its relationship with the United States, but it's safe to say that China is going to have to contend with other countries in the region that would rather not see China become too powerful.
- While we're talking about borders, China borders three of some of the most unstable countries in the world: Afghanistan, North Korea, and Pakistan. China is surrounded by potential enemies and instability. The United States has two large oceans distancing it from any other country that could be remotely considered a world power.
- In spite of qualms that some might have about the United States and its military reach, it still has a lot more military allies than China does. China's main military ally is Russia, and even that has historically been tenuous.
Although the future is uncertain, if an educated guess had to be made, the best one is that China will have just enough muscle to make sure that the United States does not intervene in East Asia along China's border. Yes, China's military is growing, but to say that China's military is going to be on par with the United States military is just another reason to increase defense spending in America. I hope the powers that be can see that China's weaknesses are very real, and can pursue constructive relations with China instead of worrying about a bogeyman of worst-case scenario whose probability is next to nil.