Beijing’s Official Military Budget ‘Masks Much Higher Spending’

A file image of the People's Liberation Army (Navy) frigate Yueyang (FF 575) during an exercise in 2014. (Image: Wikimedia)
A file image of the People's Liberation Army (Navy) frigate Yueyang (FF 575) during an exercise in 2014. (Image: Wikimedia)

Beijing announced on March 5 that it is raising its armed forces defense budget by 8.1 percent, a figure doubted by outside analysts who say the amount is much higher.

The defense budget for 2018 officially is 1.11 trillion yuan ($175 billion), making China the world’s second biggest spender on military after the U.S., which this year is spending $700 billion on a military comparatively much more spread around the world.

Overseas experts doubt the validity of the Chinese figures. “China’s official military spending figures are questionable, with many independent estimates suggesting that it already spends in excess of $200 billion on its military each year,” wrote Dhruva Jaishankar a fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings India in New Delhi in an article published by China File.

A senior Asia diplomat likewise told Reuters that the real rise would probably be at least double what Beijing revealed, given the scope of the modernization efforts that China has been carrying out.

“Some spending will be hidden in civilian spending,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The details of how the budget will be spent are limited, attracting criticism from Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, who said the Chinese military budget lacks transparency,

“These investments and commitment need to be taken with full transparency,” Admiral Swift said in Tokyo a day after the budget was announced, reported Reuters. China’s “intent is not clearly understood,” he said.

Admiral Swift’s concerns were similarly raised by high level Japanese and Taiwanese government officials.

The budget announcement comes amid regional concern over China’s rapid modernization of it military forces, which includes the building of aircraft carriers and new stealth fighters.

It also comes as Beijing increases its assertiveness in contested areas, such as the South China Sea, where it has built armed bases on man-made island and rocky atolls.

Sam Roggeveen, a visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defense Studies Center of the Australian National University in Canberra, told Reuters that the pace and scale of China’s military build-up is very dramatic. “It is extremely alarming for Australia and many other countries in the region,” said Roggeveen.

“There is every indication that China wants to expand what it will call defense capabilities in the South China Sea. I expect eventually we will see warships and aircraft there regularly, if not based there permanently,” he said.

But even if the amount of the budget given by Beijing was accurate, it wouldn’t matter much, argued U.S. analyst James Holmes.

“China is preparing to fight on its ground, and far from our ground. It doesn’t need the vast — and pricey — logistical and basing infrastructure we do,” Holmes wrote for China File. “It can concentrate all of the forces purchased for that US$175 billion close to home, while U.S. forces are scattered around the world,” he stated.

“Chinese military labor is cheap, while American soldiers, sailors, and aviators are expensive. And on and on. Bottom line, let’s not be lied to by statistics. He who spends the most need not win.”

For more, watch this report from the The Washington Post:

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