> Why please is it accepted that the Chinese military is a "threat"? China spends less than 10% of the U.S. military budget on defense.
Let's see, some possible reasons:
1. Practically no-one believes those official PRC figures which show their military expenditure so low. Even nonpartisan organisations like SIPRI believe that those figures are understated by a substantial margin. That's what you might call a lie. Pretending that your military expenditure is much lower than it really is, well, that makes people uneasy. They are inclined to wonder who you're trying to fool, and why...
2. That of course leaves the ground open for everyone else to make their own guesstimates, and of course no two of them agree. However, most of them put China somewhere between 4th and 2nd highest military budget in the world.
(A related issue is "purchasing power parity." That is, many things are much cheaper to buy with yuan in PRC, than with dollars in USA.)
3. More interestingly, PRC has the fastest growing military budget in the world, by a long shot. In the late '90s through to about 2002 growth was hovering around 17 ~ 18% p.a., slowed down to about 7 ~ 10% p.a. (still well above CPI) in 2003 through to 2006, and has now surged again to 17.8% last year. The announcement of the latest increase seems to imply that they intend to sustain it. This growth has been sustained for more than a decade so far. If it continues at this pace, it will surpass the US within about 9 years (depending on which estimate of current expenditure you use.)
In comparison, most other major powers have been restraining or even dramatically cutting defence spending from the late 1980s up until 2003, from when it has in some cases risen, but much slower than China's. For example, US defense expenditure as a percentage of GDP fell nearly every year from 1985 through to 2003, from when it has risen again, but only recovered to 1997 levels. In absolute dollar terms rather than %age, it has risen in some years, fallen in others, but not kept pace with inflation. In 2001, for example, it was only 1% higher in absolute dollars than it was in 1989.
4. China claims that its rapidly growing military expenditure is defensive, but much of it blatantly is not. While much of their funding surge has been spent on modernisation (both of the PLA, and of defense industrial capability), increasingly they have been investing in power projection systems that have never previously been a large component of PLA capabilities. These include both traditional power projection systems (such as converting the PLAN from a coastal navy to a cruising, blue water navy with a burgeoning number of SSBNs; expanding amphibious assault capabilities; and experimentation with aircraft carriers), but also a heavy emphasis on "asymmetric capabilities".
5. During the 1990s, PRC was the only member of the NPT's "five nuclear states" that expanded its nuclear arsenal, while the others were making deep cuts.
6. PRC maintains an openly aggressive, extremely hostile stance towards a nearby US ally, Taiwan. This extends so far as to firing missiles into Taiwanese waters, and maintaining at least one military units whose sole raison d'etre is the invasion of Taiwan. However, such an aggressive stance towards its neighbours is not restricted only to Taiwan; several nations dispute sovereignty of the Spratly islands, but so far only PRC has sunk and killed rival claimants.
7. PRC is an ideologically led state whose aggressively expansionistic views of communist doctrine have in the past led directly to war with western nations, or substantial military support to nations at war with western nations. Until the late 1980s PRC had essentially unconstrained exports of arms to many "rogue states", that seem to have been permitted on no better grounds than that they might make more trouble for everyone else than for PRC. PRC was the world's leading exporter of landmines. While relations with the west are at least superficially much more genial today, these policies have never been renounced. Arms exports have declined, but PRC was shipping missile guidance equipment to Iraq right up to the US led invasion and today continues to export arms to very dubious buyers, including, for example, Sudan.
8. I could go on, but I have work to do...
In the long run, Chinese foreign policy is far more of a concern than terrorism.