Chinese defence spending boost to meet ‘complex security challenges’

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Increases in China’s defence budget have been “appropriate and reasonable” and are aimed at meeting “complex security challenges”, a government spokesman said.

Wang Chao gave no indication of whether the rate of increase to be announced on Sunday at the opening of the National People’s Congress’s annual session in Beijing would be above or below last year’s 7.1%.

But he said the defence budget has remained stable as a share of GDP and that China’s military modernisation “will not be a threat to any country”.

China Congress
Delegates attend the opening session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing (AP)

“The increase in defence spending is needed for meeting the complex security challenges and for China to fulfil its responsibilities as a major country.

“China’s defence spending … is lower than the world average and the increase is appropriate and reasonable,” Mr Wang added.

China spent 1.7% of GDP on its military in 2021, according to the World Bank, while the US, with its massive overseas obligations, spent a relatively high 3.5%.

Chinese military
Chinese paramilitary policemen march across Tiananmen Square (AP)

Along with the world’s biggest standing army, China has the world’s largest navy and recently launched its third aircraft carrier.

It boasts a massive stockpile of missiles, along with stealth aircraft, bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons, advanced surface ships and nuclear powered submarines.

China has already established one foreign military base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti and is refurbishing Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, which could give it at least a semi-permanent presence on the Gulf of Thailand facing the disputed South China Sea.

China Congress
There have been concerns over Chinese support for Russia (AP)

That has prompted a steady flow of weapons sales to the island, including ground systems, air defence missiles and F-16 fighters.

Taiwan itself recently extended mandatory military service from four months to one year and has been revitalising its own defence industries, including building submarines for the first time.

Although no longer increasing at the double-digit annual percentage rates of past decades, China’s defence spending has remained relatively high despite skyrocketing levels of government debt and an economy that grew last year at its second-lowest level in at least four decades.

China Congress Defense Spending
Beijing said its modernisation of the military will not pose a problem to any other country (AP)

Observers say the budget omits much of China’s spending on weaponry, most of which is developed domestically after years of large-scale imports from Russia.

China’s huge capacity and Russia’s massive expenditures of artillery shells and other materiel in its war on Ukraine have raised concerns in the US and elsewhere that Beijing may provide Moscow with military assistance.

Speaking at the G20 meeting in India on Friday, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said that were China to engage in “material, lethal support for Russia’s aggression or were to engage in the systematic evasion of sanctions to help Russia, that would be a serious problem for our countries”.

“We’ve not seen it do that yet, but we’ve seen it considering that proposition … and I made clear that there would be consequences for engaging in those actions,” Mr Blinken said.

China has been carrying out what it calls normal trade with Russia – including a three-fold increase in coal imports through just one border crossing, according to Chinese media – seen as providing Moscow with a partial economic lifeline alongside other countries such as India.

Beijing last month issued a proposal calling for a cease-fire and peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, but has also said it has a “no-limits friendship” with Russia and has refused to criticise Moscow’s invasion, or even to call it an invasion.

It has accused the US and Nato of provoking the conflict and condemned sanctions levelled against Russia and entities seen as aiding its military effort.

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