Global Insights: China’s Military Buildup Stokes Regional Arms Race

China's Southeast Asian neighbors are engaging in a sustained military buildup, with their imports of major conventional weapons systems almost doubling in volume in the five-year period from 2005 to 2009, compared to the 2000-2004 period. Although some of these imports may have replaced obsolete weapons or matched purchases by other Southeast Asian countries, China's massive military buildup is an important factor driving the region's defense modernization efforts.

According to the latest data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), imports of major conventional arms by Indonesia rose by 84 percent in the two five-year periods. For Singapore, the increase was 146 percent. And Malaysia imported an astounding 722 percent more arms between 2005 and 2009 than it did during the previous five years. The large volume of weapons purchased by Singapore has resulted in that country becoming the first state in Southeast Asia to rank among the world's top 10 arms importers since the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

Last year, the Vietnamese government began ordering foreign-made submarines and long-range combat aircraft, contributing to the perception of a regional arms race. Vietnam has an ongoing territorial dispute over maritime claims with China, as do several other Southeast Asian countries. "While Southeast Asian governments . . . still don't openly voice concerns over China, they think about it, and they are making a statement with what they are buying," SIPRI Senior Fellow Siemon Wezeman told journalists. "Fifteen years ago, there were the same conflicting claims in the South China Sea but the countries didn't have the means to enforce their claims. Now, the moment somebody hits oil there, things might look very dangerous." Unlike Japan, Australia, or South Korea, the countries of Southeast Asia do not have bilateral defense treaties with Washington.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.