Increased Chinese military expenditures

I don’t think I’m “the sunniest of optimists”, as Ed Morrissey puts it, but I don’t think that increasing Chinese military expenditures is bad news:

BEIJING, March 4 — China announced its biggest increase in defense spending in five years on Sunday, a development that quickly prompted the United States to renew its calls for more transparency from the Chinese military about the scope and intent of its continuing, rapid arms buildup.

Jiang Enzhu, a spokesman for the National People’s Congress, the Communist Party-controlled national legislature, said China’s military budget would rise this year by 17.8 percent to roughly 350 billion yuan, or just under $45 billion.

“We must increase our military budget, as it is important to national security,” Mr. Jiang said at a news conference. “China’s military must modernize. Our overall defenses are weak.”

Even assuming that the Chinese are understating their military expenditures, does anyone doubt that their expenditures are a fraction of our $430 billion military budget?

China has little ability to project power beyond its borders; its forces are mostly for internal security; China is not expansionist (at least not in the sense of military conquest); and we have no intention (or ability for that matter) to invade China.

I know that their are officers in the Pentagon who, searching for a “near-peer high-tech enemy” in the conflict they’ve built their careers in planning for, see China as the most likely prospect for such a role. And I don’t even doubt that there are Chinese officers who’d like to see China playing that role. I think that such notions are far-fetched on both sides of the Pacific.

China has become a middle-class nation by World Bank standards and it’s an enormous one. If China is to shoulder the responsibilities in its region of its new status, it must modernize its military and expand its capacity. The alternatives are that no one takes on that responsibility or that we do and, as I look around me, I see little willingness on the part of my countrymen to double or treble our own military expenditures. We’ve increased the size of our military little since 9/11; if that doesn’t spur an expansion how will prospective troubles in the Far East?


There’s an excellent post from The Arms Control Otaku on why China’s nuclear arsenal isn’t a threat, either.

3 comments… add one
  • The Soviet Union liked to “disguise” it’s military expenditures by dispersing them throughout the KGB, MVD, State Defense Committee, the Military-Industrial Commission, Ministry of Defense and several other agencies and, of course, lying in all the published figures. I doubt if the Soviets themselves knew exactly what was being spent, not even counting what was saved on labor costs or subsidized materials ( and how much exactly was ridiculously wasted). We ended up underestimating the size of the Soviet GDP devoted to defense almost by half, as the true figure was unbelievable. I imagine China is a similar case but much less extreme.

    In such instances, the best bet is to ignore China’s budget figures and count known capabilities and give them an American cost equivalent. Then for fun, add reasonably suspected capabilities and adjust upward while excepting that you will never do better than a rough guess. And recalling that while China’s military potential is improving, currently they are not ready for prime time. Put an equal number of Chinese divisions against the IDF and the Chinese will get creamed in a matter of days.

  • To add to what Mark said, a lot of this argument is apples and oranges. Much of the US budget goes to personnel – pay, housing and health care. So to field one trained soldier in China costs much, much, much less than in the US. A similar situation exists with equipment. The are building their capabilities up, but they are buying most of their technology – much cheaper than developing it like we do, so their R&D and procurement costs are a fraction of ours. So X number of 4th generation fighters will cost the Chinese much less than the same number of US 4th gen fighters. We also have much higher operational costs. Our forces are deployed all over the world – keeping them there and supplying them costs an extraordinarily large amount of money. China’s military, on the other hand, stays in garrison and only deploys for training, exercises, etc. So the three major military costs, personnel, equipment, and operations, are all significantly less expensive for China than the US. As a result, a dollar spent by China on the military goes a lot further than a dollar spent here in the US.

    One can add pork and the Congressional meddling that forces the military to keep and/or buy stuff it doesn’t want or need.

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