Asia arms up to counter growing Chinese might

Vietnam has nearly doubled its military spending, Japan is requesting its biggest-ever defense budget and the Philippines is rushing to piece together a viable navy.

Beijing: Vietnam has nearly doubled its military spending, Japan is requesting its biggest-ever defense budget and the Philippines is rushing to piece together a viable navy.

Several Asian nations are arming up, their wary eyes fixed squarely on one country: a resurgent China that's boldly asserting its territorial claims all along the East Asian coast.

The scramble to spend more defense dollars comes amid spats with China over contested reefs and waters. Other Asian countries such as India and South Korea are quickly modernising their forces, although their disputes with China have stayed largely at the diplomatic level.

Asian countries now account for about half of the world's arms imports, with China leading the way by quadrupling its annual military budget over the past decade.

The growth in military spending has largely kept pace with economic expansion, although it's been pulling ahead in China, Vietnam and several other countries this year.

China's goal is to dislodge the US as the dominant power in the Pacific, said Robert D Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for the US-based intelligence research firm Stratfor.

Among the stakes are vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea and potentially lucrative pockets of oil and natural gas under East Asian waters.

"The Chinese bet is that it can increase its military capacity in the South and East China seas faster than Vietnam and the Philippines can do so," Kaplan said. "If China is able to move freely and exercise more control of its adjacent seas, it will become a full-fledged naval power."

Beijing has not yet caught up to the US, which at USD 665 billion a year, spends more on its military than the next eight countries combined and triple that of China, according to the Stockholm International Peace Institute, a think tank.

Still, China's spending nearly equals the total defense budgets of all 24 other countries in East and South Asia. Drawing the most attention is China's submarine fleet, which is projected to match US numbers by 2020, at 78 vessels each.

Many of the Chinese submarines will be stationed at a giant underwater base on Hainan island, which juts into the South China Sea.

Similarly, Japan is replacing its entire fleet with more modern submarines, South Korea is adding bigger attack submarines and India plans to build six new subs.

India, which has territorial disputes with both China and Pakistan, has bought so many tanks and jet fighters that it has become the biggest arms importer in the world. India has opened a 100,000-person-strong mountain corps near disputed stretches of its border with China.  

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