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Eye on China, neighbours accelerate biggest arms race in Asia since WWII – Times of India

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TINIAN (NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS): The tiny island of Tinian was the launch point for US jets carrying atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Now a new runway is being carved from the jungle, just south of World War II ruins.
And on a February morning, a few hundred yards away at Tinian’s civilian airport, American airmen refuelled Japanese fighter jets during a military drill using more airstrips, islands and Japanese planes than the two enemies-turned-allies have ever mustered for drills in the North Pacific.
Asia and the Pacific are steering into an anxious, well-armed moment with echoes of old conflicts and immediate risks. Rattled by China’s military buildup and territorial threats – along with Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine – nations across the region are bolstering defence budgets, joint training, weapons manufacturing and combat-ready infrastructure.
For decades, Asia’s rise made it an economic engine for the world, tying China and other regional manufacturing hubs to Europe and America. The focus was trade. Now fear is setting in, with China and the US locked in a volatile strategic contest and with diplomatic ties at their worst point in 50 years.
This past week’s meeting in Moscow between China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia pointed to the powerful forces lining up against the West. Xi has made his intentions clear. He aims to achieve a “national rejuvenation” that would include displacing the US as the dominant rule-setter in the region, controlling access to the South China Sea, and bringing Taiwan – a self-governing island that China sees as lost territory – under Beijing’s control. In response, many of China’s neighbours are turning to hard power, accelerating the most significant arms race in Asia since WW II. On March 13, North Korea launched cruise missiles from a submarine for the first time. The same day, Australia unveiled a $200 billion plan to build nuclear-propelled submarines with US and UK.
Japan is gaining offensive capabilities unmatched since the 1940s with US Tomahawk missiles. India has conducted training with Japan and Vietnam. India and Japan have also since signed several deals that typify the region’s interlocking defence plans. One deal granted access to each other’s bases for supplies and services.
Malaysia is buying South Korean combat aircraft. US officials are trying to amass a giant weapons stockpile in Taiwan to head off a Chinese invasion, and the Philippines is planning for expanded runways and ports to host its largest US military presence in decades.
None of this may be enough to match China. Its own surging arsenal now includes “monster” coast guard cutters, missiles and nuclear warheads.
Over the past year, China’s military has also engaged in provocative or dangerous behaviour: deploying a record number of military aircraft to threaten Taiwan and firing missiles into the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone for the first time and sending soldiers to dislodge an Indian army outpost, escalating tensions.
Asia’s security calculations point to an ill-tempered global order, shaped by one-man rule in a more militarised China, bolder aggression from Russia and North Korea, and demands for greater influence from the still-developing giants of Indonesia and India.
In 2000, military spending in Asia and the Pacific accounted for 17.5% of worldwide defence expenditures, according to SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In 2021, it accounted for 27.7% (with North Korea excluded, making it an undercount), and since then, spending has shot up further. China’s growth has been a major driver of that increase. It now spends about $300 billion a year on its military, according to SIPRI, up from $22 billion in 2000, adjusted for inflation – an expenditure second only to the $800 billion defence budget of the US.

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