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China increases military spending 11.2%

March 9, 2012

China announced this week that it will increase military spending by over 11 percent in 2012. The New York Times reports:

The increase, reported to be 11.2 percent, is in step with the increased pace of military spending by China over the past decade, but the official statement did not give details of what weapons systems China is developing or offer a description of military strategy beyond protection of the country’s sovereignty. China analysts said the true figure was probably significantly higher and was underreported because much of the military’s decision-making is kept opaque.

Even with the massive increases, China’s official military budget remains much lower than the military budgets in the US or UK. China’s parliament spokesman Li Zhaoxing defended the increase this way, as reported by Reuters:

“You can see that we have 1.3 billion people with a large land areas and a long coastline, but our outlays on defense are quite low compared to other major countries,” Li told a news conference before the annual full session of the National People’s Congress, the Communist Party-controlled legislature that will approve the budget.

“China’s limited military power is for the sake of preserving national sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity,” said Li, a former foreign minister. “Fundamentally, it constitutes no threat to other countries.”

But, real military spending may be two times the official budget. China is developing and testing a variety of new weapons and transport systems including a new fighter jet, new submarines and ships, an aircraft carrier, and anti-ship ballistic missiles (see this BBC story for a map indicating the range of those missiles).

Michael Beckley of Harvard University’s Belfer Center argues (see the above Reuters story) for keeping China’s military modernization in perspective:

“There’s no doubt China’s new hardware has important symbolic value and, at least in the case of the ASBM, important coercive value – the U.S. navy has to think twice now before getting too close to China’s shores,” Beckley said in emailed comments, referring to China’s anti-ship ballistic missile.

“But the PLA’s progress needs to be viewed in the context of China’s low level of economic development,” he added.

“China’s economic weaknesses constrain its ability to produce cohesive military systems that link weapons and soldiers to sensors, satellites and command centers.”

Why is China so intent on modernizing its military? This analysis on the Foreign Policy Association website links China’s rising defense budgets to its energy policy.

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