China ups defense spending in 2020 but ‘economic growth cushions increase’

Minnie Chan, South China Morning Post

Posted at Apr 27 2021 07:05 PM

China ups defense spending in 2020 but ‘economic growth cushions increase’ 1
Militia members attend a ceremony marking the completion of a military park in the shape of an aircraft carrier, in Dalian, Liaoning province, China April 16, 2021. China Daily via Reuters

China again increased spending on its military last year, reflecting a global increase in defence expenditures in spite of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Sweden-based research group.

In a report released on Monday, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said China spent an estimated US$252 billion on its armed forces in 2020, 1.9 per cent more than it laid out the previous year.

The increase was lower than the 2.6 per cent increase globally but the total was 41 per cent higher than the budget announced by Chinese Ministry of Finance last year.

Defence spending around the world rose to US$1.981 trillion, with the five biggest spenders – the United States, China, India, Russia and Britain - together accounting for 62 per cent of the global total, the group said.
Military spending by the US grew by 4.4 per cent to a total of US$778 billion in 2020, or about 39 per cent of the global total.

However, SIPRI senior researcher Nan Tian said economic growth buffered the increase in China.

“China stands out as the only major spender in the world not to increase its military burden in 2020 despite increasing its military expenditure,” he said.

China’s economy grew by 2.3 per cent in 2020, the only major economy to have expanded last year. According to SIPRI, 2020 was the 26th year in a row that China had raised its expenditure on its armed forces.

“The ongoing growth in Chinese spending is due in part to the country’s long-term military modernisation and expansion plans, in line with a stated desire to catch up with other leading military powers,” he said.

A Chinese military source said that part of the 2020 spending was for pandemic control, especially in the central city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first reported.

“People’s Liberation Army medical specialists and logistic departments across the country were ordered to provide assistance to Wuhan and other areas in Hubei province, meaning military resources were shifted to ad hoc non-traditional military operations,” the source said, adding that some scheduled military training was postponed or cancelled as a result.

The PLA also spent more on China’s border with India, and the East and South China seas, according to Zhou Chenming, a researcher with the Beijing-based Yuan Wang military think tank.

“China needed to increase both weapons and troop deployments to the border with India in the Himalayas, which required extra spending to build roads and new barracks,” Zhou said.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet and the pandemic prevention and control equipment and measures all require money, as do the increased naval patrols in the East and South China seas.”

Macau-based Antony Wong Tong agreed but said the PLA had also upped its spending on research of anti-biological weapons and logistical support for military operations.

“The PLA Air Force deployed unprecedented sorties of helicopters and cargo planes for the anti-pandemic campaign last year, while the military’s modernisation also needs more funds,” Wong said.

Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said external factors such as pressure from the US were the main reasons behind Beijing’s continued growth in military spending.

“The US’ interference on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang issues, as well as territorial disputes over Diaoyu Islands [known as Senkakus in Japan] between China and Japan, as well as the US Navy’s so-called freedom of navigation operations in the disputed South China Sea have all made China feel insecure,” Song said.

Alexandra Marksteiner, SIPRI’s arms and military expenditure programme researcher, said the increases in US spending could be mainly “attributed to heavy investment in research and development, and several long-term projects such as modernising the US nuclear arsenal and large-scale arms procurement”.

“This reflects growing concerns over perceived threats from strategic competitors such as China and Russia, as well as the Trump administration’s drive to bolster what it saw as a depleted US military,” Marksteiner said.

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