While the rest of us watching defense issues were still trying to make sense of what the new Pentagon budget actually means, the Chinese doubled down on their push to become Asia’s most powerful country. The People’s Liberation Army (the overall armed forces, including the Navy and Air Force), will get a whopping $106 billion this year, according to official statistics. In truth, most China watchers think the numbers are closer to double that, once you factor in things like their growing space program and nerdy college boys cyberhacking everything in sight. True, the Chinese still fly four-engine prop bombers, but that’s just to take our eyes off of their developing stealth fighter (so stealthy that we apparently didn’t know it was ready to fly until it took off a few years ago when then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just happened to be in town), their new submarines, and their aircraft-carrier–killer missiles.
All this is happening while we very publicly cut our defense budget, so the Chinese know the threat to them is declining. Yes, our budget still more than doubles theirs (or is five times the size, depending on which statistics you believe) — but all they have to do is focus on their relatively small neighborhood filled with relatively small military powers, while we remain the world’s policeman. Though at the rate we’re going, in a few years we’ll be spending more time eating donuts in the coffee shop than out patrolling the global streets. China’s military budget has been growing by double-digit percentages for the past 15 years. That it continues to do so when its No. 1 competitor is initiating a significant cut is about all you need to know that we may wake up sooner rather than later to an Asia in which our voice carries far less weight, and where China has the greatest influence.