Friday, February 17, 2012

Regional arms race is heating up

Japan has revised regulations barring the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency from engaging in non-peaceful activity, allowing JAXA to work on defense-related projects

Beijing might not like it, but its growing military power has sparked a new arms race in Asia, a development that could have devastating effects if cool heads do not prevail.

Try as it might to convince its neighbors and the international community that its “rise” is peaceful, the emergence of a new regional power that threatens to shake up the “status quo” inevitably creates diplomatic tensions. The fact that, for the first time in decades, a regional power could compete for influence with the US, whose navy has played a stabilizing role in the region since World War II, is creating a new paradigm that, in turn, is forcing the region to prepare for the unknown, if not the worst.

Natural fears of the unknown notwithstanding, Beijing has also exacerbated apprehensions with occasional rhetoric on its territorial claims in the South China Sea and to islets in the East China Sea — not to mention Taiwan. Making matters worse is the continued lack of transparency regarding the actual budget for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has led to wild speculation as to the actual figures. Just this week, research group IHS Jane’s was claiming that China’s military budget could double from its current level to US$238.2 billion by 2015.

Whether that figure is on the mark or inflated, as some China watchers have already said, is of little consequence as it reflects the sense of unease that is descending upon the region.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Picture: A H-IIA rocket carrying an information gathering payload for surveillance launched into space from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

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