BEIJING – When American analysts talk of China’s military, they often describe it in terms of the looming threat of the future, a rapidly modernizing and expanding force that could one day rival, or even worse, overtake the United States.
Such anxieties were fanned further this week with China’s announcement of yet another year of double-digit growth in military spending. The news prompted public alarm from the Pentagon to Manila and Tokyo.
But when China looks at its own army, it is often with fears that it is not big enough and is lacking in competence, modernization and the sheer hardened will of a well-trained force.
Chinese soldier are wimps, bemoaned a prominent Communist Party publication describing, them as male soldiers with female characteristics.
Dangerously corrupt, wrote a famous Chinese colonel in a recent book, describing brothers-in-arms who had been fattened on bribes and grown complacent.
China’s Foreign Ministry scoffed at the alarm among the United States and its Pacific allies at China’s increased military budget.
The moderate growth is totally reasonable and justifiable, and there is no need to feel surprised, said Qin Gang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman.
He added with unusually colorful language and sarcasm: The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is not a children’s army equipped with red-tasseled spears.
Some outside China hope to see China stay as a Boy Scout who never grows up.
China’s budget announcement Wednesday came just one day after the Pentagon announced plans to cut the U.S. Army to its smallest size in decades.
Chinese military spending now ranks second in the world. But analysts say its official budget – $131.56 billion for 2014 – doesn’t include billions spent in secret.
The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that China’s real sum for last year could be as high as $240 billion.
China’s army is growing literally as well, according to a military report last month. The People’s Liberation Army’s official newspaper said the average Chinese soldier has grown about 0.8 inch taller and about 2 inches thicker in the waist in the past two decades.
The bigger soldiers have brought with them problems as well as praise, the military newspaper said.
Tanks three decades old are now suddenly too snug and rifles butts too short, causing accuracy problems.
But for all the talk of China’s bigger, beefier and expanding force, Chinese analysts clamor that its budget remains dwarfed by that of the United States, which plans $526.8 billion in military spending for fiscal year 2014.
China is not as strong as the West describes, said Song Xiaojun, editor of an online Chinese military magazine, who likened its army to a sickly child still on the mend. I actually don’t think the current increase is enough; it should be accelerated.