Michael Wines – New York Times March 4, 2011
China’s military spending will rise 12.7 percent in 2011 to about $91.5 billion, a parliamentary spokesman said on Friday, resuming a long string of double-digit annual increases after an unexpected slowdown in 2010.
The resumption of rapid growth follows a year in which China’s neighbors have expressed concern about the military’s increasingly muscular behavior in waters off its Pacific coast and along the tense border with India. But the spokesman, Li Zhaoxing, repeated China’s longstanding position that the military is a defensive force and “will not pose a threat to any country.”
Mr. Li announced the increase as the National People’s Congress, China’s 3,000-delegate quasi-legislature, prepared to open its annual session at the Great Hall of the People on Saturday.
China’s publicly reported military spending rose only 7.5 percent in 2010, a modest increase that some experts said might reflect a diversion of money to dealing with the global economic crisis. Since 1989, however, the budget has risen by an average of 12.9 percent per year, according to GlobalSecurity.org, a private organization that maintains an online database of military-related information. Many analysts, including those in the Pentagon, say that China’s actual military spending is likely considerably greater than the reported sums.
Speaking at a news conference, Mr. Li said that the extra money would be spent on new weaponry and pay increases. At 2.3 million soldiers, the People’s Liberation Army is the world’s largest land force, and the Chinese Navy and Air Force have been rapidly modernizing their arsenals.
The Chinese Air Force conducted its first flight test of a stealth fighter jet, the J-20, in January while Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was in Beijing resuming top-level military relations after a year-long estrangement. The Pentagon has said that China’s navy could deploy its first aircraft carrier this year.
By any measure, however, China’s armed force are a shadow of the United States’ military, with a 2010 budget of $729 billion, 11 aircraft carriers, 139 stealth fighters and a nearly 2,400 conventional fighter jets — almost a thousand more than in China. At less than two percent of gross domestic product, “China’s defense spending is relatively low by world standards,” Mr. Li said.
Fueled by the expense of two wars, American military spending has risen in recent years to roughly 4.9 percent of GDP. China’s neighbors nonetheless have been rattled recently by what some outside analysts have called Beijing’s newly aggressive military posture, particularly in contested Pacific waters off the east coast. Late last year, China turned Japan’s seizure of a Chinese fishing boat in disputed waters into an international standoff. This week, Japan scrambled military jets after Chinese Navy aircraft approached the area.
Vietnam and the Philippines also have protested Chinese military activity in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.