China is now world No. 2 arms spender, report says

China has become the world’s second biggest military spender behind the United States, a Swedish peace research group said Monday.

Global arms spending rose 4 percent last year, but China increased its spending by 10 percent to an estimated $84.9 billion last year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in its annual report on world arms transfers.

“China is continuing to acquire both domestic and foreign arms as it seeks to equip its armed forces for conditions of modern ‘informationalized’ warfare,” it said. Such warfare involves the use of precision weapons and high-tech information and communications technology.

Sam Perlo-Freeman, a researcher for the peace institute, said China had previously spent relatively little on its military.

“They are the second biggest military spender now, that does not mean they are the second strongest military power, because a lot of other countries have been at this game for a lot longer than China,” Perlo-Freeman said.

“While they are certainly seeking to increase their regional and global influence … there is very little evidence of any hostile intent in terms of the region,” he said.

The United States continued to top the rankings by a wide margin, with its military expenditure rising 9.7 percent last year to $607 billion, the institute said. It said the U.S. accounted for nearly 42 percent of the total global arms spending of $1.46 trillion.

France narrowly overtook Britain — last year’s No. 2 — for third place. Russia climbed to fifth place from seventh in 2007.

The report said the security situation in Afghanistan is likely to worsen and warned that expectations for President Barack Obama’s strategy for the region may be too high.

“Regrettably, Afghanistan’s fate over the next few years still looks to be finely balanced. Progress will continue to be slow, flawed and fragile,” the report said. It warned that a hasty international exit would risk leaving the political and security situation dangerously unstable.

The report also said Obama’s goal of putting less emphasis on military solutions and more on political development seemed at odds with the U.S.’ decision to deploy new combat troops to Afghanistan over the next two years.

The research institute said Obama will face difficult challenges in withdrawing troops from Iraq, as well as in changing the way the U.S. deals with the international community and in pursuing nuclear disarmament.

“These and other challenges may be exacerbated by the effects of the world financial crisis as key countries find it difficult to muster the necessary political and economic will to collectively address global and regional security problems,” the report said.