The new Chinese leadership has announced a boost to military spending. However, Beijing-based correspondent Shannon Van Sant told RT it will be mostly spent on domestic security.
China's new leader Xi Jinping is officially taking the reigns of power as Beijing completes the long process of a once-in-a-decade transition. According to Shannon Van Sant, the new head has a whole bunch of problems to solve with the country’s domestic security and economic transition being the most important.
RT: The new man at the helm, Xi Jinping, is expected to be a strong military leader - how will this affect China's stance on its territorial disputes, with Japan for example?
Shannon Van Sant: China has made increasingly bellicose
statements in recent years regarding its territorial disputes with
Japan and other Asian nations over the South China Sea.
And it seems, by some analysts’ measures, that Xi Jinping is trying
to develop closer ties with China’s military and make sure that the
relationship between the Chinese leadership and the military is
very, very strong. So by doing it he’s vowed to increase military
spending and he has also been taking a strong lead with the Chinese
leadership, who were making very aggressive statements regarding
some of these territorial disputes mentioned. So it will be
interesting to see if these statements were just strong, bellicose
statements going forward and if China actually takes real action
regarding those disputes.
RT: With the U.S. increasing its presence in Asia - are we in for a contest of supremacy in the region between Beijing and Washington?
SVS: It’s very interesting. As you said [Barak] Obama’s administration announced a pivot towards Asia last year, and China, of course, is increasing its military spending greatly. But the majority of this increase will be spent on domestic security. I think that’s very significant because a lot of challenges that China faces right now are not international, are not in terms of foreign policy. It’s in terms of maintaining stability domestically with the increased number of protests across the country. So it’s worth pointing out. But yes, I think we are seeing in some regions here in Asia perhaps the competition for influence – in places like Burma and other places around the world. I wouldn’t say it’s a competition yet militarily, but certainly economically and to some extent in terms of ideology and ideas in terms of how the political systems should be and liberalization. There are a lot of competing ideas right now between the West and Asia, and China specifically.
RT: Xi Jinping’s first official visit will be to Moscow. What do you thing China’s foreign policy goals will be?
SVS: We have to wait and see. They’ve appointed some very seasoned diplomats right now, some experts on relations with the US as well as people very familiar with Japan. So that should help in terms of solving some of the territorial disputes as well as in terms of managing the delicate relationship with the US. But China’s focus right now is very much domestic. There are a lot of challenges domestically to deal. Keeping the economy going amidst some of the crisis going in other parts of the world is one of their biggest challenges as well as improving the rule of law and some other reforms that have to take place if they are going to counter some rising areas of descent in many parts of the country.
RT: There's a lot of talk of a global geopolitical
reshape with fast-growing economies - the BRICS nations - rapidly
coming to the fore. How important is the cooperation within the
BRICS group for China now?
SVS: China’s economy is growing impressively like none of
the economies of the other BRICS nations. So China provides
leadership in a certain way. And the country has good trade
relations with Brazil, with African nations, with Russia and India,
which is important. I think it will be very interesting to see it
going forward. Right now in some way China is filling the World’s
economy and if it continues to do that it has to make this
transition from an economy based on manufacturing to an economy
based on consumption. That’s one of the biggest challenges for the
Chinese leadership for the years ahead.