In the last decade, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) military spending has continued to grow by double-digit figures, drawing the attention of China’s neighbours. “China’s Threat Theory” also has become a long-standing hot topic of discussion. Last year, the CCP demonstrated robustness in the dispute over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands, drawing further media attention.
A BBC report cited Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun’s article that stated the CCP’s military increases focus on the East and South China Sea to cope with the US’s “Back to Asia” strategy. Hua Po, a Beijing political affairs observer, said:
“When making decisions about military spending, the CCP won’t take into account the attitudes of its neighbouring countries. In most cases, the CCP only claims that it will develop peacefully without seeking hegemony. All its work is no more than making announcements etc. But the CCP won’t really compromise on its military increases.”
Xi must win over the army’s loyalty
In the recent months, Xi Jinping made a high-profile inspection tour of the CCP’s military forces. Hua Po remarked that Xi had to establish his authority with the military as the new commander-in-chief. Hua Po said:
“In the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the revolt of the military at critical moments became a key factor. Therefore, to protect his position, Xi Jinping has to establish authority over the military to ensure his absolute leadership. Only by achieving this can Xi stabilise the situation at critical moments.”
On the other hand, Xi visited most of the military groups during his inspection tour, including the army, navy, air force, the second artillery and the armed police, among others. He stressed that the army had to be absolutely loyal to the CCP, following the principle of “the Party commands the gun”. This clearly shows that Xi Jinping worries about the army’s loyalty.
Social conflicts in China have reached a critical level
Hua Po added that:
“Right now, the social conflicts in China have reached a critical level. The possibility of having another historic event like the ‘June 4th Incident’ also grows higher. Therefore, Xi Jinping wants to make sure that the army will follow his commands at critical moments. To achieve this, Xi also made important personnel changes in the Military Commission at the CCP’s 18th Congress.”
China’s economic growth is projected to drop in the coming year. Hua thinks the CCP’s military budget will experience a significant slowdown after Xi solidifies his leadership over the military. Currently, Xi needs to be cautious of the army’s sentiments, as he just took power. This is the reason why military spending maintains its 2-digit growth.
Hua Po remarked that Xi is attempting to strike a balance between justice and mercy regarding the army. On one hand, he is trying to address the problem of the widespread corruption to establish his authority; on the other hand, he obliges them by cutting down the military increases in a moderate manner, because he doesn’t want to irritate the military forces.
Political commentator Heng He remarked that the military increases will not influence China’s economic development too much as China has a very large economic pool, saying:
“The more important question is how much will the CCP depend on the military to solve any crisis? If a huge military force is necessary to deal with political or economic crises in the future, this will lead to an increase in military spending. I don’t think this policy will change much with the new commander-in-chief.”
Ending corruption in the military and the Party is risky
Heng He further remarked that being able to “benefit” from corruption is what the CCP entices its followers with. If all the corruption is really eliminated, then both the survival of the Party and the army will be at stake:
“How can the CCP implement an anti-corruption policy with the power from only one individual? When the whole Party is corrupt, anti-corruption is what will destroy it. This cannot last for long, as it would either kill the Party or the individual himself.
“At most, it can become a political movement for a while. But it will never be really effective in eliminating corruption, which is already ubiquitous.”
Another article reveals that the salaries in the army will be raised again in June. This move can be seen as Xi continuing to win over the army’s loyalty with “power” and “money”. In such a case, there is little chance of seeing a significant slowdown in the growth of military spending.
According to US statistics, China’s “actual” military spending is perhaps 3 to 4 times higher than what the CCP announces.