China has increased its defense spending dramatically in the last decade to $131 billion this year, according to its official statements, placing it second only to the United States in military funding.
With a jump of more than 12 percent from 2013, many of its neighbors are unsettled by the buildup, particularly in light of China’s claims of sovereignty over islands throughout the South China and East China seas that are claimed by a host of other Asian countries.
China is telling critics of the buildup that it is simply reclaiming its history as a powerful yet peaceful and defensive-minded nation. Officials point to the harmonious-minded teachings of Confucius and construction of the defensive Great Wall, among other historical evidence.
But that interpretation of Chinese history, which has become an essential tool for the Communist Party of China to assuage its neighbors’ anxiety and manage domestic opinion, is at odds with the country’s history, Asia scholars say.
They point out that at the height of its power, China used military force — or its threat — to garner land and wealth.
“China uses folklore, myths and legends, as well as history, to bolster greater territorial and maritime claims and create new realities on the land and water,” Mohan Malik, a China expert at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, wrote in an essay published last year. “Chinese textbooks preach the notion of the Middle Kingdom as being the oldest and most advanced civilization that was at the very center of the universe, surrounded by lesser, partially Sinicized states in East and Southeast Asia that must constantly bow and pay their respects.”