The true cost of a new confrontation with China

The PDI is misguided and unnecessary. America’s current military might, which also exceeds the peak of the Reagan buildup of the 1980s, is more than enough to address any military challenge posed by China. The US spends two and a half times more than China on its military, and there is no evidence China has ambitions to match or replace its global military machinery. China has made advances in military technology and has sparked concern among analysts with its assertive claims on islands, waters, and airspace in its vicinity, but the fact remains that China has enough problems at home. One analyst suggests that fully half of China’s military is devoted to border or internal security, limiting its ability to project power beyond its borders.

Throwing more money at tools of military confrontation is not only a waste of resources, but it likely invites blowback. A major military buildup in East Asia would needlessly antagonize China at a moment when cooperation with Beijing should be the focus, as it’s clearly necessary to address the global recession, current and future pandemics, and climate change.

Cooperation on these issues should not preclude assertive opposition to China’s human rights abuses and its crackdown in Hong Kong. But a military buildup will not help the US make progress on those fronts. And it could discourage American allies in Asia from building up their own defenses, which could ultimately help China expand in the region.