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Keeping Up With The Joneses: China Defense Spending To Rise

March 25, 2012

On the first weekend of March this year three thousand party officials trooped to Beijing for the annual National People’s Congress (NPC). The whole point of the ensuing ten day affair was to set policy, approve legislation, and allow the leaders to do some posturing. President Hu Jintao, for example, was pretty eloquent about building an equitable society that looked after the needs of its citizens.

But on Sunday, March 4, the eve of the NPC, an obligatory press conference produced a startling figure that has since rippled across the newsscape. According to official mouthpiece Li Zhaoxing the percentage of China’s defense spending this year is slightly less than the previous one. But it’s going to boost the overall budget significantly–$106 billion to be specific. Or 670.27 billion yuan. The infinitesimal percentage for 2012 that Li mentioned is a mere 11.2% while last year’s was 12.7%. Not a big deal, in fact.

The inevitable punditry that poured forth in the wake of the news—that China is boosting its arms spending, not necessarily the NPC going full steam ahead—was poignant pointing that, according to the published budget report, most of the cash is being spent on operational expenses. That is, salaries and new equipment rather than fancy hi-tech weapons. A bit misleading, since all branches of the PLA are fielding new vehicles and gear at an alarming rate, especially the air force and navy. Also keep in mind that serious China watchers are wary of  any numbers coming from Beijing.

The above is harmless analysis, however. The trajectory of China’s armed forces is still the same as the last 10 years. The whole point is building a military capable of force projection, territorial defense, and maybe a giant confrontation in either Central Asia or the Pacific Ocean in the near future.

China’s rising military budget is often accompanied by howls of justified fear mongering from its supposed rivals—namely Japan, the US, and India. It has been cited that the US in particular is at some disadvantage given its recent spending cuts; a perplexing claim. This is because the US still spends more than any country on Earth and a lot of brand new weapon systems–littoral warships and the F35 series, for example–are entering service within the decade.

Russia also figures in the game as the government (Putin and co.) have made clear their massive rearmament drive extends to 2022 with a special focus on subs, aircraft, and ICBMs.

In future posts, the author will put arms races in their historical context and draw a few interesting conclusions. No use pretending it’s not there: What’s happening throughout Asia and beyond is the biggest arms race of our young century.