BEIJING, Feb. 3 (ChinaMil) -- French media reported that before Trump was sworn into the White House, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State he nominated, vowed to take a tough stance against China to curb its reinforced military presence and regional influence.
He claimed that "we will send a clear message to China: building artificial islands and landing on the islands and reefs in the South China Sea will not be allowed." He even equated the construction of artificial islands with "Russia's occupation of Crimea".
The website of French newspaper Les Échos published an article on January 25 that said that the remarks by Rex Tillerson triggered strong reaction from China. China's English-language newspaper Global Times said "unless Washington intends to fight a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other attempt to stop China from landing on those islands will be ridiculous".
The US didn't contain Russia's ambition, then is the new Trump administration able to stop Beijing from enhancing its presence and strength in that region?
While the Chinese economy has flourished in the past 20-plus years, China has also been working hard to foster a modernized military, which may become the world's most powerful military in 2049, the year when the People's Republic of China will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), nine Chinese military enterprises are among the top 100 military enterprises in the world, including two among the top ten: the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) and the China North Industries Corp. (Norinco).
However, the US remains the world's largest military power and leaves the others far behind, but China is catching up quickly from a technological point of view, and it is already the world's second largest military power in terms of budget.
According to data from Jane's Defense Weekly, China's military expenditure will reach $233 billion in 2020 from $123 billion in 2010. Meanwhile, the PLA is undergoing a transformation from an overstaffed military to a modernized organization through more rational configuration.
The 2016 annual report published by the Pentagon said that China's military modernization reform entered a new stage in 2015 and the military structure is going through an overhaul at the moment.
The reform will serve a number of purposes: to tighten the CPC's control of the military, improve the PLA's capability of carrying out joint operations, and raise the success rate of engaging in short and intense regional conflicts in areas farther away from Chinese homeland.
One part of the modernization efforts is to cut the troops by 300,000 to around two million by the end of 2017. Another aspect is the more stringent anti-corruption campaign in the military. More than 40 generals, including former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, have be prosecuted.
Modernization also concerns the military system. China is trying to intensify its nuclear strike force although it has only a small number of nuclear warheads. Among China's new military equipment, experts at the Pentagon mentioned DF-26, a medium and long range ballistic missile that they believed could add to China's strategic deterrence in the Asia Pacific.
China may have made the greatest efforts on the Navy, which is the largest in the region today with more than 300 vessels, submarines, amphibious warships and patrol ships. However, China's first aircraft carrier Liaoning isn't as advanced as America's ten serving Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, though new carriers are being built and the Liaoning ship mainly serves to train pilots.
In addition to equipment modernization, China has continued to expand the defense system on the Nansha islands, especially deploying short-range defense weapon systems. It also built the first overseas base in Djibouti and expected to station 6,000 soldiers there. The base is intended to ensure the security of maritime routes around the Horn of Africa.
But what purposes will those military forces serve? Anthony Cordesman from the US Center for Strategic and International Studies said last December that China, like US in the Asia Pacific, didn't seek direct confrontation or conflict. The seemingly aggressive moves were just "natural results" of the growth of Chinese economy and its capability of ending the centuries-long external threats.
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