The arrival of a Chinese surveillance ship on Australia's doorstep as it kicks off defense exercises with the US has highlighted the massive investment
Australia was reminded about China's military might this week after a Chinese Type 815G Dongdiao-class surveillance ship entered Australia's exclusive economic zone, just weeks after three warships docked at Sydney Harbor.
China has been pumping money into its defense program and appears to have increased its spending by almost 44 per cent in the last two years.
Figures on Global Firepower China’s defense budget in 2019 is about $ 224 billion, compared to $ 155.6 billion in 2017.
But while Chinese spending has surged, it is still dwarfed by the US military budget which is $ 716 billion annually, up 23 per cent in the last year.
Professor John Blaxland of the ANU's Strategic and Defense Studies Center told news.com.au many people don’t appreciate how much the US is keeping up with China.
"There is an implicit assumption around that quickly China is increasing its military capability, that has been standing still," he said.
"From what I have seen, from a distance but from reasonably informed sources, is that the US has focused on the need for heightened investment in advanced technologies that will help it retain a capability edge.
"I understand China is very good at finding out about it via covert means."
Prof. Blaxland said the US was "keeping its powder dry" a few technical developments in a range of fields including cyber capability, anti-satellite technology and steerable hypersonics.
"There is an assumption that China's development of ballistic capability, anti-satellite technology and cyber warfare is monolithic and unstoppable but does not take into account just how much the US is developing to counter those capabilities," he said.
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He described the situation as a game of cat and mouse with one country developing new technology while the other focuses on countermeasures.
"It´s fast changing in the research and development arms of major corporations, including in Australia, doing some innovative and cutting-edge stuff so it’s not all one-sided."
In the US department of defense is a piggy-backed investment in a country withstand cyber and laser attacks as well as a disruption from electromagnetic pulses.
Talisman Saber war-games kicking off in Queensland this week and it happened a lot during the Cold War. Prof Blaxland says China has come to learn from Russia. Data is scoured by analysts and artificial intelligence for insights on tactics, vulnerabilities and potential pressure points.
He said China’s capabilities had become more sophisticated and that they were doing more type of monitoring more often, which was a very sobering effect on Australian military planners as well as other participants like Japan and the US.
"Neighboring countries like Indonesia, are closely monitoring what is happening and what its implications are."
But China’s previous activities, including in 2017 when they were reportedly spotted off the coast of Australia, were not highlighted in the media.
"Normally this type of activity would go largely unreported," Prof Blaxland said.
"Someone, somewhere has decided to let us know that this is something we are faced with."
"I think they've been called out here."
An article published in the Global Times, a daily Chinese newspaper that focuses on issues from the Chinese government's perspective, described Australian news reports as exaggerated.
"The Australian military's accusation that sent a 'spy ship' to gather intelligence on US-Australian naval exercises is nothing but an exaggeration," the July 8 article states.
Prof Blaxland believes the reports are trying to alert Australians to "dark clouds looming" the country is not prepared for.
"The scale of the challenges we are facing is a nation is growing," he said.
THE STAKES ARE GETTING HIGHER
The military spend-off between the worlds biggest countries is just one of the challenges for global superpowers, alongside things like the dark web, international criminal gangs and human smuggling cartels, Prof Blaxland said.
“What we’re finding is, we in Australia have really long felt that we’re right in the long run from everybody; but technology is changing that and weather and global trends are changing that, ”he said.
Australia hasn’t thought about these types of issues for a long time
"I think we are probably a bit behind the curve in how we have responded so far and how we need to respond in the future," he said.
"I think the release of the information on the ship is that, it 's trying to get people to have greater sense of awareness than the stakes, which are getting higher."