There is a significant amount of unwarranted hysteria over the “rise of China” in the media and US circles. The popular narrative is that China is becoming more powerful and aggressive. For example, take this recent headline from the Associated Press: “China Splurging on Military as US Pulls Back.” Or from the National Interest: “China Goes Ballistic.” Congressman Randy Forbes, the founder and chairman of the Congressional China Caucus, recently wrote the “balance of military power in the Asia-Pacific writ large is under serious and growing pressure from China’s military-modernization efforts.”
The logic of this narrative only works if one believes it is perfectly natural and right for the United States to run the world and that nobody else has a right to do so. It is true in a technical sense that China is expanding their regional influence, but to compare it to the influence and military might of the United States is laughable. China’s tepid attempts of expansion is simply nothing compared to what the United States has and does around the world everyday.
The freakout over China reflects a deeply embedded imperialist mentality in the West that any independent challenge to the authority of the master must be countered and destroyed. This is what the so-called “pivot to Asia” (now being called the “rebalance to Asia”) is all about. Obama claims the “goal is not to contain China,” but who can honestly believe that when the US just made an agreement with the Philippines which will allow US forces greater access to military bases in that country? Why is a naval base being built on Jeju Island, South Korea which will similarly host US forces? Why is the United States expanding its military presence to include 60% of its naval assets to the Asia-Pacific region?
Who is really guilty of “aggression” in the area?
Let us look honestly at the differences between China and the United States, then, to see who really poses a greater threat to peace in the world.
Military Spending (Official)
The above figures are the official military budgets (in billions US$) for each country for 2014. As you can see, the United States officially spends about four times as much as China.
Military Spending (Actual)
However, those official figures are misleading. The actual military spending of both countries is higher. They don’t include spending hidden away in other departments. When you include all military and war-related spending, it looks more like this:
The US maintains an arsenal of 7,700 nuclear weapons while China maintains about 240. The other nuclear-armed countries include Russia (8,500 weapons), France (300), United Kingdom (225), Pakistan (100), India (90), Israel (80), and North Korea (up to 10).
Military Personnel Abroad
The United States has 164,227 active-duty military personnel outside the United States (plus additional civilian workers). China has about 2,000 military personnel engaged as part of UN peacekeeping operations.
Foreign Military Bases
It is literally impossible to determine how many military installations the United States maintains in foreign lands. According to the Pentagon’s Base Structure Report, there are 598 such installations abroad (in addition to 4,364 domestically and 97 in US territories). That is the figure I chose to include in the graph because it is the most exact figure I could come up with.
However, it should be considered a conservative estimate. The Pentagon’s report doesn’t include bases in Afghanistan, for example, where I could not find an exact figure (“fewer than 80”). It also doesn’t include most “forward operating bases” or “cooperative security locations,” which are not considered permanent military installations but nonetheless could be considered de facto US military bases. For example, there is officially only one US military base in Africa, but in reality there are many more. The total number of bases is probably more than 1,000.
China has no foreign military bases.
UN Security Council Vetoes
The US has vetoed a total of 79 Security Council resolutions while China has vetoed 8.
The US exports 29% of the world’s share of arms transfers (leading the world). China exports 6% of the world’s share (in fourth place). Russia exports 27% in second place and Germany exports 7% in third place.
Interventions, Conflicts & Covert Operations Since 1945
Since 1945, the United States has invaded, bombed, conducted covert operations against, or interfered in the elections of at least 70 countries (many of them more than once).
They include China, the Marshall Islands, France, Italy, Greece, the Philippines, Korea, Albania, Puerto Rico, Germany, Iran, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Syria, Indonesia, British Guiana, Russia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Haiti, Ecuador, the Congo, Brazil, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, East Timor, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Thailand, Iraq, Australia, Angola, Jamaica, Seychelles, Grenada, Morocco, Suriname, Libya, Nicaragua, Panama, Bulgaria, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Yemen, South Africa, Portugal, Honduras, Chad, Fiji, Somalia, Mexico, Colombia, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Sudan, Venezuela, Mali, Uganda, Argentina, Turkey, Poland, the Palestinian Territories, Japan, Nepal, Mongolia, and Pakistan. There are probably more. For more information, see William Blum’s Killing Hope or Rogue State.