The Chinese plan their largest jump in military spening in five years, Beijing announced yesterday. They will increase spending by 18% in order to hasten the modernization of weapons and defense systems, and also set themselves up as potential arms suppliers. However, the large increase still leaves their defense budget far behind that of the US:
China announced its biggest increase in defense spending in five years on Sunday, a development that quickly prompted the United States to renew its calls for more transparency from the Chinese military about the scope and intent of its continuing, rapid arms buildup.
Jiang Enzhu, a spokesman for the National People’s Congress, the Communist Party-controlled national legislature, said China’s military budget would rise this year by 17.8 percent to roughly 350 billion yuan, or just under $45 billion.
“We must increase our military budget, as it is important to national security,” Mr. Jiang said at a news conference. “China’s military must modernize. Our overall defenses are weak.”
But China’s military modernization efforts, particularly its drive to develop advanced weaponry, have been raising concern from Washington to Tokyo to New Delhi, where officials are worried that the buildup could be as much offensive as defensive. In January, China set off fears of an arms race in space when it successfully tested an antisatellite missile that destroyed one its own aging weather satellites. A month earlier, the People’s Liberation Army began deploying the country’s first state-of-the-art jet fighter, the J-10.
These advances reflect China’s intense focus on scientific and technological development, and are the fruits of more than a decade of increased military spending. China’s defense outlays increased an average of about 15 percent a year from 1990 to 2005, according to the Chinese military. This year’s jump is the largest one reported since military spending rose by 19.4 percent in 2002.
One of the reasons that American analysts have grown so concerned with these increases is that they believe the actual spending level of the Chinese is much higher than announced. Experts figure the actual outlay on defense amounts to as much as four times the announced level of $45 billion. China plays the numbers down, in part for domestic consumption, and in part from a policy of playing cards close to the vest.
Even at that level, they will still trail far behind the US. We have an annual budget for the military that exceeds $430 billion per year, and as the New York Times points out, that doesn’t include spending on the war in either the Afghanistan or Iraq theaters. Even with worst-case scenarios on spending, the Chinese will spend half of what we do to defend — or oppress — a country many times our size and with four times the number of people.
It could even be a good sign for the West, although one would really have to be the sunniest of optimists to focus on it. Their success in implementing capitalism has boosted their economy enough to make this extra spending possible, and one could hope that further expansion of capitalism will eventually bring China around to the US as primarily a trading partner rather than a military opponent. Also, we have seen capitalism give ordinary people a stake in peace rather than war, and the Chinese populace might reject aggressive measures towards the US as business improves and expands throughout the nation.
The level of spending has not reached a critical point as a threat to us — yet. Most of their focus will probably still be inward, especially since a number of their ethnic enclaves in their own west have begun to develop more significant unrest. They have a problem with radical Muslims there, close to where Afghanistan and Pakistan have their own. As NATO continues to pressure groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban in those countries, they will find it more and more tactically useful to infiltrate China, where the Coalition would not dare attack — and China will have to deal with the ever-increasing terrorist threat to their own stability in that region.
At this point, the situation bears watching, but their spending levels still indicate that they cannot hope to match us, even close to home. If anything, it might prompt some of our allies to start spending a little more on their own defense.