There is no question which country gets the starring role in “The Military Balance”, the latest annual review of the world’s armed forces by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a London-based think-tank. Amid renewed jostling between the world’s great powers, it is the pace of military modernisation in China that stands out.
China’s president, Xi Jinping, wants to be able to challenge America’s military might in the western Pacific. He is making big progress. China’s once bloated armed forces are becoming leaner and a lot more capable. They are also benefiting from a defence budget that is growing at a steady 6-7% a year, in line with GDP. The IISS declares that China has become an innovator in military technology and is “not merely ‘catching up’ with the West”.
For some of the most advanced science, Mr Xi is tapping the private sector. Non-state firms are helping the armed forces to develop quantum technologies that will boost their ability to make use of artificial intelligence and big data, as well as to develop unhackable communications networks. A potential advantage that China has over the West is that its tech firms have little choice about working on military projects. The Pentagon has to woo sceptical Silicon Valley companies. Firms in China do what the government tells them to do.
Such exotic technologies will take time to be deployed on the battlefield. But China’s focus on them may cause the West’s already eroding military edge to disappear entirely. (end of excerpt)
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