(Total reading time: 5 mins.)
It is reported in the news today that Trump has ordered the deregistration on the Stock Exchange of three China companies in the belief that they are basically fronts for the Chinese military. It is reported also that the incumbent, Joe Biden, is unlikely to take a different line and that “US officials have complained that China’s ruling Communist Party takes advantage of access to American technology and investment to expand its military, already one of the world’s biggest and most heavily armed.”
China’s military may indeed be one of the world’s biggest and most heavily armed but there is no question of which power is the most heavily-armed, far above all others: the USA. According to statistics supplied by an EU armed forces comparison site (see SOURCES below), China spends $288 billion on its military, which is much more than doubled by the USA’s $610 billions. And the USA’s military share of its GDP (Gross Domestic Production), at %3.1 is way ahead that of China’s 1.9%.
One of the few areas in which China’s military outstrips the USA’s is in active personnel, at 2,300,000 against 1,281,900. Which is hardly surprising, as China’s population is more than four times that of the USA’s (1.43 billion, compared with 329 million). And that too would account for its reservist imbalance, 8,000,000 versus the USA’s 811,000.
Another area in which the Chinese military outstrips the USA’s is in tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery, self-propelled artillery and rocket artillery (that last by not so large a margin). But the USA has three times the total military aircraft of China, twice the number of attack aircraft, nearly four times the number of multirole aircraft and over four times the number of helicopters. Only in fighter aircraft does China outnumber the US’s and that by a significant amount: 1,150 against 587 – but multirole aircraft, of which the USA has 2,192, are designed for air-to-air combat as well as missile launching against ground targets.
In naval power, although China’s total of 780 looks impressive next to the USA’s 437, the USA has 20 aircraft carriers while China has …. two. The USA is not bothered with frigates or corvettes, of which China has respectively 54 and 42 but the USA’s 85 destroyers are more than double China’s 36. In submarines they are not far off level pegging, with China’s 76 against the USA’s 71.
These figures tell us that the USA far outranks China in military hardware and also that its military production per head of population is vastly greater than China’s. But when we look at the type of weapons in which one predominates over another (without regard to quality or modernity), it tells us something else: the USA is far better fitted for long-range warfare than is China. No state is safe from long-range attack by the USA military but many parts of the world are relatively secure from such an attack by China’s current military capability.
Furthermore, in a war between both powers, the USA would rely on hitting China from afar with bombing raids from air bases in countries with US-friendly regimes (e.g Pakistan, Indonesia, Australia, Thailand, Philippines, South Korea, Japan) and from its fleet of aircraft carriers.
China could perhaps overrun the USA’s defences on the ground but how could their troops and vehicles reach America?
Of course, the USA vastly outnumbers China in nuclear warheads too: 6,500 against 280.
MILITARISATION OF THE ECONOMY
Lenin and others wrote that increasingly in the capitalist countries, finance capital had become merged with industrial and whereas finance had earlier fed industrial development, it was towards the end of the 19th Century deserting industry at home to invest in super-profits available through exploitation of natural resources and labour power in the developing world. Countries that had large colonial territories and foreign investment preferments or monopolies were neglecting their industries in the time of imperialism while capitalist countries without the same outlets were concentrating their capital on modernising their production models and methods.
In the USA, finance capital merged long ago with industrial but, since WW2, with military expenditure also. But not only merged — the military side has come to dominate. Not necessarily in actual production statistics, though these are pretty high – according to industrial analyst Louise Echitelle writing in 2017, Roughly 10% of the $2.2 trillion in factory output in the United States goes into the production of weapons sold mainly to the Defense Department for use by the armed forces. But in addition, over half the World’s arms sales in 2013, according to a SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) pie chart quoted by Wikipedia, were by the USA and this share is likely to have increased since.
Military production is publicly funded in Government purchasing and also in allocation of production sites – Echitelle wrote three years ago that the bidding to get a major company to locate in a municipality
“can sometimes top $100 million per factory location. A manufacturer who finally accepts a municipality’s bid collects tax breaks, a gift of land on which to put a factory and sometimes the cost of building and equipping the factory itself at taxpayers’ expense.”
Incidentally, that level of reliance on military production also makes for a militarisation of the labour force, a binding of workers and trade unions to military production. This will be reflected also in cultural products such as war films (documentaries of US Wars, fictional or semi-fictional war films, Sci-Fi with US military in the future), war games and novels, USA Armed Forces Day barbecues and street parties on the third Saturday of each May, all together resulting in social support for war, invasion of other countries and …. further military expenditure.
Although the figures here have concentrated on military production and its public funding in the USA, one has to take into account many other aspects, such as that expended on raising and educating a child to military age and all that is involved in that huge investment over a period of 18 years or so.
Another factor in the calculation is what is not being produced because of the concentration on military production and its secure source of public funding. Or no longer being produced. Echitelle points out that at the end of WW2, US industry produced cars and appliances, clothing, shoes, houses and furnishings for the home market and exported many of them too. The reliance on military spending in production facility and its public funding has seen the US give way to foreign competitors in those consumer goods not only abroad but in its domestic economy too. On the other hand, China is increasingly producing such goods for its huge home market and even exporting some, for example in communication technology products.
One does not need to be a supporter of the Chinese regime to burst out laughing at the irony when a US President or US officials accuse the Chinese of militarising their economy.