China’s Military Spending to Double by 2015

Posted on September 1, 2012


Chinese Air Force J-10 fighter jets take off during training in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

China’s defense budget will double by 2015, making it more than the rest of the Asia Pacific region’s combined, according to a report from IHS Jane’s, a global think tank specializing in security issues.

Beijing’s military spending will reach $238.2 billion in 2015, compared with $232.5 billion for rest of the region, according to the report. That would also be almost four times the expected defense budget of Japan, the next biggest in the region, in 2015, the report said.

The new report was released as China’s Vice President, Xi Jinping, arrived in Washington at the start of a four-day visit to the U.S. that is seen as a prelude to his expected promotion to Communist Party chief in a once-a-decade leadership change in the fall.

Mr Xi, who is also Vice Chairman of the Party’s Central Military Commission, is due to visit the Pentagon on Tuesday after meeting his counterpart, Joe Biden, and Presdent Obama at the White House earlier in the day.

Ahead of the visit, he and other Chinese officials had expressed concern about the U.S. decision to refocus its military strategy on Asia last year, and complained of a “trust deficit” between Beijing and Washington.

China says that its military spending does not pose a threat to any other country, and has repeatedly pointed out that it still represents a tiny fraction of U.S. defense spending. But the new research highlights what U.S. officials are worried about: That China is rapidly increasing its military spending without being sufficiently transparent about its strategic intentions in the region.

Many of China’s neighbors have been alarmed in the last year or two by what they see as Beijing’s more assertive stance on territorial issues, especially over the South China Sea.

China says its defense budget for 2011 increased by 12.7 percent to about $91.5 billion, but many defense experts believe its real military spending is much higher.

IHS Jane’s put the figure for 2011 at $119.8 billion, and predicted it would increase by an average of 18.75 percent annually until 2015.

“China’s investment will race ahead at an eye watering 18.75 percent, leaving Japan and India far behind,” said Paul Burton, senior principal analyst of IHS Jane’s Defence Budgets.

He added that Taiwan’s defense spending was expected to have overtaken Singapore’s by 2015, while Vietnam and Indonesia were also forecast to increase military expenditure at a rate that exceeds GDP growth.

Rajiv Biswas, chief Asia Pacific economist for IHS Global Insight, was quoted saying: “Beijing has been able to devote an increasingly large portion of its overall budget towards defence and has been steadily building up its military capabilities for more than two decades.”

He continued: “This will continue unless there is an economic catastrophe. Conversely Japan and India may have to hold back due to significant economic challenges.”

Responding to the report, the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid published by the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, did not dispute IHS Jane’s projections but warned against Western powers “with an axe to grind” using China’s military budget to promote the idea of a China threat.

The aim of China’s defense modernization “is safeguard national unity and security,” the paper said (in Chinese). Adhering to the policy of coordinated development of national defense and the economy, investment in national defense has always occurred on a moderate and reasonable scale.”

Jeremy Page

Is the China Threat Overhyped?

Cutting through the myths and mischaracterizations of the U.S.-China relationship.

American leaders are overhyping the China threat, Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman recently argued. Is he right?

Unfortunately, Chapman mischaracterizes American concerns on both the security and economic fronts. In the process, he is dismissive of very valid issues and perpetuates two age-old myths about the U.S.-China relationship.

The Mischaracterizations

On security: “It’s true that China has been upgrading its defense forces. But that’s what you would expect of a country that has gotten much richer in the past few decades … Like any normal regional power, China aspires to have some capacity to dictate to others rather than be dictated to.”

It may be that China’s military modernization is expected and that China has every right to build up its arms; nonetheless, modernization can be destabilizing and Washington does have reason to worry about how Beijing is using its growing capabilities.

China may indeed want to avoid being “dictated to.” Ironic, then, that China has been dictating to others in the region. Its actions in the South China Sea last year—from firing shots at Filipino fishing boats to cutting cablesof Vietnamese oil vessels—show China’s willingness to press its claims on others in the region. This is why the Philippines, for example—after kicking the U.S. Navy out of Subic Bay 20 years ago—is now engaging the United States in talks about temporary basing options. Japan is bolstering defense ties with Southeast Asian nations and shoring up its relationship with India. These moves are reactions to China throwing its weight around.

China’s military modernization itself is another reason to worry. New capabilities may limit American freedom of action in Asia, threaten U.S. assets, and—in a worst case scenario—prevent the United States from coming to the aid of its allies. The land-based anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), for example, could potentially take out a U.S. aircraft carrier, an essential platform of American power projection.

The ASBM also demonstrates the fallacy of Chapman’s simple defense budget comparisons between the United States and China. China certainly does not spend as much as the United States, and its military will not possess the strength and agility of the U.S. armed forces anytime soon. But China is focusing on gaining asymmetric advantages that could preclude the United States from securing its interests in the Asia-Pacific. China is the only country that has land-based ASBMs, which creates serious strategic vulnerabilities for the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

On economics: “In our daily lives, someone who sells us things and lends us money is to be valued, not feared … China’s rapid growth has been a good thing, not a bad one.”

Yes, the U.S.-China economic relationship has been largely mutually beneficial. And perhaps even more importantly, China’s economic development since 1980 has succeeded in raising millions of Chinese citizens out of abject poverty.

What worries the United States are some of the methods China employs to gain an economic advantage. The Chinese currency should not be the main point of contention, as Chapman notes correctly. But as Derek Scissors pointed out at a recent event at the American Enterprise Instistute, intellectual property rights (IPR) and commercial cyber-theft raise serious concerns. Last year’s World Trade Organization (WTO) report on China’s compliance with WTO mandates and rules details several improvements and commitments made by China on protection of IPR, but there are still many areas for improvement, particularly in enforcement. China’s commercial cyber-espionage is rampant, costing U.S. companies tens of billions a year.

The Myths

On political freedom: “And the economic changes China has made are bound to lead, over time, to political liberalization.”

This myth about China has been peddled for three decades now and is part of what James Mann calls the “Soothing Scenario” in his book, The China Fantasy. American and other Western leaders use this construct to make themselves feel better about their close relationship with China, and to explain away Chinese domestic repression.

There is often a correlation between economic development and political liberty. But in China’s case, some recent developments suggest that political liberalization has slowed if not reversed. In the last several weeks alone, Chinese security forces have opened fire on and killed Tibetansjailed and killed Uighur Muslimsdenied an invited human rights lawyer entry to a dinner with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and banned any visitors to recently re-jailed human rights advocate Gao Zhisheng.

Additionally, as Minxin Pei and Derek Scissors both argue, China may be moving away from the very economic liberalization that Chapman touts as the gateway to democracy. As Pei notes, the state sector is reassertingitself in most areas of the economy, including banking, finance, and energy. And according to Scissors, state banks dominate lending and generally favor state enterprises; private firms face widespread discrimination in obtaining capital and financing.

Pei explains most succinctly why economic reform will not lead to political change in China: “as long as pro-market reforms are used as a means to preserve the political monopoly of the CCP, such reforms are doomed to fail.” In other words, the Chinese Communist Party is committed to reform only when it serves its purposes, rather than viewing market reform as an end in itself.

On China as an enemy: “But it is not fated to be an enemy, unless we decide to make it one.”

As AEI fellow Dan Blumenthal has written, this “self-fulfilling prophecy” is the most common myth in U.S.-China relations:

Treat China like an enemy, the belief goes, and it will become an enemy. Conversely, treat China like a friend and it will become a friend. But three decades of U.S.-China relations should at least cast doubt on this belief. Since the normalization of relations with China, the aim of U.S. policy has been to bring China “into the family of nations.” Other than China itself, no nation has done more than the United States to improve the lot of the Chinese people and to welcome China’s rise peacefully. And, rather than increase its deterrence of China—a natural move given the uncertainty attendant to the rise of any great power—the United States has let its Pacific forces erode and will do so further… Here is just one example of how unserious we are about China: As China continues to build up its strategic forces, the United States has signed a deal with Russia to cap its strategic forces without so much as mentioning China. Unless Beijing was insulted by this neglect, surely it could take great comfort in an anachronistic U.S. focus on arms control with Russia. But despite our demonstrations of benevolence, China still views the United States as its enemy or, on better days, its rival.

Demonstrating strength, seeking a balanced Asia not dominated by China, articulating policy stances clearly, and refusing to cave on issues important to us does not constitute treating China as an enemy.

Maintaining a good relationship with China should not come at the expense of U.S. interests and commitments, nor should it prevent us from seeing the current state of U.S.-China relations as it really is. Mischaracterizations and mythologies distract from the real policy differences and distort the lens through which we view the U.S.-China relationship.

Lara Crouch

The China threat is no invention

As the world anxiously waits to see which direction the Chinese Communist Party will take amid rising tensions pitting China against its neighbors and the US, some commentators appear to be bending over backward to try to explain away Beijing’s behavior, which, for those of us in Asia, has all the appearance of belligerence.

From claims that the West is “inventing the China threat” to the argument that Chinese leaders have displayed “more self-control when it comes to sovereignty issues than their counterparts in Japan, Russia, South Korea and Taiwan,” some pundits are proposing that China’s recent patterns of behavior have been solely in reaction to an increasingly hostile environment.

As usual, it is the US, with its neoconservatives, military industrial complex and fear-mongering media, that shares the largest part of the blame for China’s anxiety.

Or so we are told. Having “defeated” the Soviet Union, Washington had to “invent” a new enemy (global terrorism apparently was not enough) and embarked on a program to surround and contain it by “pivoting” to Asia, “re-opening” air force bases and coming up with esoteric concepts like Air-Sea Battle.

That is all fine and well, and there is no doubt that with elections approaching, the US polity has entered a period where the “red scare” probably has more traction than it usually would (one need only look at the trailer for the recent Death by China documentary to get a taste of how extreme the rhetoric can get).

However, to claim that Chinese behavior played no role in the growing sense of crisis, or that its recent assertiveness was purely in reaction to insecurity, rather than the cause, stretches the imagination.

For one, China’s military buildup began years before the current situation in the East and South China seas arose. That expansion, both in budgetary terms and in the type of equipment the People’s Liberation Army is deploying, therefore cannot have been the result of supposed troublemaking by Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Chinese state-owned media, as well as military pundits, have also adopted an undeniably nationalistic and belligerent tone, while protests over the Diaoyutai Islands (???) have called for Tokyo to be “washed in blood” and for the South China Sea to be turned into a “sea of fire.”

Although it is fair to say that editorials and demonstrations do not necessarily reflect Beijing’s policy, China is nevertheless the only country in the region that has resorted to such rhetoric and Chinese leaders appear to have done little, if anything, to temper it.

It is also hard to see how building an air force base at Shuimen in Fujian Province, complete with multirole combat aircraft that can reach the Diaoyutais within 12 minutes, is more restrained than, say, Taipei’s call for an East China Sea peace initiative.

The whole notion that the US is re-engaging the region with an imperial agenda and to prevent China’s rise is also ludicrous. Knowing it was seriously outgunned by China, the Philippines turned to the US for assistance. As did Vietnam, whose painful history of entanglement with the US and long tradition of independence hardly makes it amenable to a greater US role in the region. That Hanoi would call upon its old adversary for help speaks volumes about the sense of anxiety that has developed within the region as China becomes more assertive.

Compounding all this is the fact that the world’s No. 2 economy, which is rapidly building one of the most modern armed forces on the planet, is run by an authoritarian regime that has not hesitated to use force against its own people. Such behavior, added to the possibility that it could be replicated in China’s foreign policy, understandably puts other countries on edge.

The “China threat” is no invention. It is a reality that must be addressed realistically and, if the situation calls for it, with firmness. Ignoring it will not make it go away.

Taipei Times