Increased defense spending justified
Updated: 2013-03-07 08:08
By Zhao Xiaozhuo (China Daily)
China plans to raise its defense budget by 10.7 percent to 720.2 billion yuan ($114.2 billion) in 2013, according to a budget report to be reviewed by the national legislature. And China has the support of most of its people to do so, as an online survey conducted by www.people.com.cn before the budget was unveiled showed. Of the 1 million respondents to the survey, as much as 90 percent said the country's defense spending growth in recent years is reasonable.
The Western media, however, have made it their wont to criticize China's defense budget, which has increased by double digits annually in the past two decades. The West should, instead, see the major reasons driving up China's military spending. More than anything else, the country has raised its defense budget to address the long-term and heightened challenge of security threat. China has a land area of about 9.6 million square kilometers, bordering 14 countries, and a continental coastline of about 18,000 kilometers, which present a huge security challenge.
Besides, the increase in territorial disputes between China and some its neighbors, such as Japan and the Philippines, in recent years and the United States' high-profile "pivot to Asia" strategy, which is designed to contain China, have further complicated the security landscape for the country.
China has to increase its defense budget to modernize its military. The end of the Cold War redefined the future of warfare through a technical lens, highlighting the procurement of advanced weapons and communications technologies. In the process, it forced the prices of weapons to increase manyfold.
The main fighters used by the United States in World War II, such as the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt, cost no more than $100,000 each, which in today's US dollar terms would be less than $1.28 million. But an F-117 Nighthawk today costs more than $100 million and an F-22 costs even more. And a modern aircraft carrier such as the US' Nimitz-class can cost billions of dollars. No country can remain immune to the revolutionary changes taking place in military affairs worldwide, and China has to take big strides to catch up with the times.
Moreover, China is increasing its defense expenditure in proportion to its military's needs to accomplish ever-diversified military tasks both at home and abroad. In recent years, the People's Liberation Army has taken the lead in rescue and relief efforts in the wake of major natural disasters such as the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and the 2010 Zhouqu mudslide. The PLA also has sent troops to serve on United Nations peacekeeping missions, anti-piracy escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia, and international humanitarian aid programs. In fact, China has sent more peacekeepers on international missions than any other permanent UN Security Council member.
To deal with the combined challenge of security threat, modernization of its military and increasingly diversifying military tasks, China has no option but to raise its defense budget. This is important also for improving the living and working conditions of its military personnel.
Seen simply from the perspective of double-digit growth, China's military expenditure has indeed spiraled upward in the past two decades. But viewed in the light of the percentage of GDP, the growth at best has been moderate.
In fact, in the first 10 years of reform and opening-up, the Chinese government deliberately kept the defense expenditure low as the country focused on economic development. In the next 10 years, China increased its defense budget gradually, on the basis of its sustained economic growth. But the growth in the defense budget was still lower than that of GDP and State expenditure.
From 1998, China began raising its defense spending on the basis of its rapid economic growth and as part of the efforts to compensate for the low expenditure in the first two decades of reform.
Even then, defense expenditure's share in GDP has decreased compared with the share of State spending over the past few years. For instance, China's defense outlay equaled 1.33 percent of the estimated GDP in 2008 and 1.28 percent in 2012, while the share of State expenditure was 6.68 percent in 2008 and 6 percent in 2011.
More importantly, China's per capita expenditure on defense is only 3.46 percent of the US, 8.29 percent of the United Kingdom and 18.45 percent of Japan, according to the SIPRI Yearbook 2012, published by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an international defense think tank.
And although China's total defense expenditure is the second largest in the world, it is nowhere near that of the US, whose military spending dwarfs that of the next 10 countries combined. In January alone, US President Barack Obama signed into law a $633-billion defense spending bill, which includes $527.5 billion for Pentagon's base budget and $88.5 billion for overseas contingency operations, including the war in Afghanistan.
Despite its avowed defensive military policy, China has to explain to the rest of the world every year why it raises its defense budgets. But, as China's Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying said recently, if a big country like China cannot ensure its security, then it will not be good news for the rest of the world.
The author is a senior colonel and deputy director of the Center on China-America Defense Relations, affiliated to the Academy of Military Science, PLA.