Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Is That a Rocket in Your Pocket?

The plane tickets are bought, the meeting rooms are booked, and as I write this, the big, silver platters are being hoisted on the tables and prepped for a feast. This weekend the UI will host a sprawling, three-day conference on China, the Olympics, and the global media. Complete with laminated name tags and flavored coffees, the conference will pull in a who's-who list of journalistic heavyweights. Journalists from the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and nearly every other Pulitzer-winning publication will trek to campus and flock to the Adler Journalism Building. And while they exchange small-talk, relate stories about past Olympics, and complete intellectually straining discourses on the role the media plays in hyping and framing the Olympics, a half world away, in Beijing, the Olympic torch is being paired with a ballistic missile.

The 2008 China Military Report, released earlier this week by the Chinese government, reveals a country sprinting towards militarization. The report shows that the Chinese government spent close to $140 billion modernizing its army last year. That figure is represents a staggering 300 percent increase from 2006, and is widely-believed to be grossly underestimated. The debate is over. China is emerging as a global economic and cultural colossus. But, so far, its military has remained relatively tame. Compared to the U.S. and many of its Western Allies, the Chinese military lacked cutting edge weapons systems, it's soldiers were often poorly equipped and underpaid, and a relatively small percentage of China's total GDP was devoted to its military. Now, the tides have turned. When faced with the choice between guns or rice, the officials in Beijing chose the barrel.

And what does this mean to the West?

China's government is a seemingly unsolvable paradox. It embraces Western-style capitalism as a means of enriching its masses and building its coffers yet remains very much a centrally-planned system. It endorses internal and international human-rights reforms yet subjugates large portions of its population to egregious human rights abuses. If it shows a smile, a frown is stirring underneath. Is the current military build-up a sign of belligerence or unprompted aggression? What do they have in mind? Is an all-out assault on Taiwan out of the question?

It seems clear that China is a country both proud of its past and confident about its role in the future. While it hopes to use the 2008 Olympics as a springboard to international glory, if back flips and breast strokes fail, tanks and bombers will succeed. The cold, hard truth is that military might matters. If China wants to fill its perceived place among the world's elite superpowers, it knows it needs an advanced military, fueled by a large pocket-book. While its exact aims are uncertain, its overarching goal is clear. China is mighty now, and will only grow mightier.

1 comment:

Jon Gold said...

This piece is in the nooooooooozpaper.