After enduring the smallest budget increase in six years, China’s military is looking to beef itself up with spending set to jump up to $233 billion by 2020.
The 2020 Chinese defense budget will signify a 60% increase from this year’s budget of a mere $146 billion, and it will be almost double the $123 billion budget of 2010, according to report by IHS Jane’s, a British publishing company specializing in military information.
The increased budget is partially explained as a response to increasing regional tensions stemming from territorial disputes in the South China Sea that most recently saw the “unlawful seizure” of a US Navy underwater drone and apparent military installations popping up on artificial islands in the sea, in a move that China’s Defense Ministry has cast as arming the “slingshot” against an aggressor “flexing his muscles outside [the] door.”
“A key trend in [the Asia-Pacific region] is the shift from a traditional focus on territorial defense towards power projection,” said principal analyst at IHS Jane’s Craig Caffrey to CNN. “This is new for the region and is likely to increase military-to-military contact between states.”
Spending for China’s military increased by just 7.6% this year, a far cry from the double-digit increases that had been the norm for a number of years. The last single-digit increase in Chinese military spending was 7.5% back in 2010.
Fu Ying, a spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress, explained that the decrease in China’s defense spending was determined by both its national economic situation and defense needs.
Last year, China experienced its lowest GDP growth rate in 25 years. Rather than a temporary dip, this appears to be the new norm for the country with the growth rate humming right along at a suspiciously stable 6.7% for the first three quarters of this year.
Although some experts agree that China’s reduced military spending is the result of lowered GDP growth, others aren’t so sure. Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said that China is prioritizing its people over its military by choosing to spend its money on social welfare programs.
“Now is not the correct time to dramatically increase the military budget,” said Jin.
But even with fewer resources, the People’s Liberation Army is looking to re-invent itself. Described by Fu as “military reform,” China is looking to modernize its military by downsizing its army while at the same time upgrading its equipment and technology.
After a cutback of 300,000 troops was announced before last year’s giant military parade in Beijing to commemorate the end of WWII, this year sees China pouring resources into its navy. A second aircraft carrier is currently being built, while live-fire drills were recently conducted on its first aircraft carrier.
The 2016 Global Peace Index (GPI) report ranked China 120th out of 163 states and territories when it comes to its level of peacefulness. China’s attention towards its military has inspired its regional rivals to do the same, even if they can’t match the spending of the burgeoning superpower.
Despite a domestic weapons program that produced its own missiles and jet fighters in the 1990s, defense spending in Taiwan has since slumped amid growing tensions in the South China Sea. The island spends just 2% of its half-a-trillion dollar economy on its military, causing it to remain dependent on the United States for aid.
Meanwhile, Japanese lawmakers are more than willing to allocate funds to deal with “external threats.” The Japan Times cites an unidentified source who said the country’s government is set to increase spending for Japan’s military for the fifth year in a row with a budget of $44.64 billion.
Among all these escalating defense budgets, it may seem as though China is funding its military at a feverishly high pace. And yet, as much as the 2020 budget of $233 billion seems like a huge increase from this year’s modest budget of $146 billion, it’s not an impractical sum.
Despite the modest increase of just 7.6% this year, China’s military spending had an average annual increase of 9.5% between 2005 and 2014, according to estimates from the Pentagon.
If we were to take this year’s figure of $146 billion and increase it by 9.5% for four years in a row, we’d arrive at a sum not far off from $233 billion.
Either way, China still has a bit of work to do if it ever wants to catch up with the US, which has a defense budget of around $597 billion — almost as much as the next 14 highest spending countries put together.
By Charles Liu
[Images via People’s Daily]
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