China slows growth of military spending to allay neighbours' concerns

Military officials who are part of Chinese Naval Force.   | Photo Credit: Zha Chunming

China on Thursday announced the smallest rise in its military spending in two decades, moved by its neighbours' concerns on the rapid growth of its military and as a result of the financial crisis.

The country will increase its defence outlay by 7.5 per cent in 2010, Li Zhaoxing, a spokesperson for the National People's Congress (NPC), China's legislature, told reporters on Thursday. This is the first time in 20 years that the military spending will not show double-digit growth. Spending rose by 14.9 per cent in 2009.

The figures for this year will, however, have to be approved when the NPC opens its annual 10-day session on Friday, during which a number of other government policies and laws will be up for review and approval.

Mr. Li said the planned defence budget for 2010 was $78 billion. This would still make China by far the biggest military spender in Asia. India's defence outlay rose by 3.98 per cent this year to $ 32 billion (Rs. 1,47,344 crore).

But military analysts The Hindu interviewed said there were persisting doubts on how transparent China's defence accounting procedures were, and that the figure was more likely in the range of $140-$150 billion.

Brigadier (retd.) Arun Sahgal of the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, who studies the Chinese military, said a likely reason behind the less-than-expected rise was the financial situation of the previous year, with China spending as much as $586 billion on a stimulus package to revive its recession-hit economy.

Analysts have also pointed to increasing concerns voiced by China's neighbours, including at the Asia-Pacific Shangri-La security dialogue last year, over the size of its military budget. “The concerns expressed by neighbours of a ‘China threat' are likely to have gone into the calculation,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, an expert on the Chinese military at JNU .

Some countries, most notably the United States, say China officially declares only half its actual spending, and does not follow rigorous accounting procedures. The overlap between military and some State-run civilian organisations here also makes accounting more complicated.

Analysts often point to the ostensibly civilian aero-space programme, which handles many military projects. Another example of overlap is the People's Armed Police Force, which is classified as civilian, but falls under the jurisdiction of the Central Military Commission.

“If you add in these, the figure is closer to $140-$150 billion,” said Prof. Kondapalli. “The U.S. says it is $250 billion, but the truth is somewhere in between.”

Even a $78-billion budget, said Brigadier (retd.) Sahgal, was substantial in comparison with the rest of Asia, and particularly India. “In terms of purchasing power, since development costs are much lower in China where a lot of [its defence] production is now indigenous, $78 billion will get you far more [than in India],” he noted.

NPC spokesperson Li, who is also a former Foreign Minister, said the $78 billion figure was still “comparatively low” taking into account China's population, its vast territory and its long coastline.

“China's defence expenditure in recent years accounted for about 1.4 per cent of its GDP,” he said, noting that the figure was 4 per cent for the U.S., whose annual military spending still dwarfs China's, estimated at more than $500 billion.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 6:19:36 PM |

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