Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Spending attacks indefensible

By Yang Yi (China Daily) Updated: 2012-03-06 08:14

China announced a day before the opening of the annual session of the National People's Congress that the country's defense spending will increase by 11.2 percent to about 670 billion yuan ($106 billion) in 2012.

Western media traditionally bad-mouth China's annual defense budget, and this year has been no exception. As early as in February, IHS Jane's, a global think tank specializing in security issues, reported that China's defense spending would double between 2011 and 2015. Likewise, the China Security Report 2011, published by Japan's security think tank the National Institute for Defense Studies last month raises, groundless speculation about China's military power and thus plays up China's military "threat."

Undeniably, China's defense budget has increased in recent years, but the annual increases have been moderate and proportional to the country's social and economic development. In fact, China has raised its defense spending at a much slower pace than it has its spending on other sectors such as education and social welfare. China's defense spending has also taken a decreasing share of the country's GDP and financial expenditure, as it declined from 1.33 percent in 2008 to 1.28 percent of GDP in 2011, and it dropped from 6.68 percent of financial expenditure in 2008 to 5.53 percent last year.

China's defense budget mainly covers the army's living costs, military operations and weaponry, and the growth in recent years is reasonable and necessary.

Above all, the military spending growth is mainly attributable to the improved livelihood of the army. The income of Chinese servicemen has increased fourfold thanks to two major pay rises in 2006 and 2009 and servicemen now enjoy better education and welfare services. The higher wages and better welfare help attract human resources and stabilize the flow of military talent.

Second, the diversified military operations at home and abroad also account for China's military spending increase. China has raised its input to strengthen the army's defense ability and competence in non-war operations, such as rescue efforts after major natural disasters. To date, China has sent more than 10 groups of naval escort ships to the waters in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. All these operations entail wear and tear to the equipment and a high level of subsidy and the nation's defense budget has to bear the costs incurred.

Third, China has raised its defense spending to advance its military reform and modernization. The budget increase covers the increased costs of purchase, maintenance and regeneration of weaponry and related products for military use, which matches with the country's need to safeguard its national security and interests and help maintain regional and world peace.

In fact, one can tell the legitimacy of China's defense spending growth by comparing the defense spending of China with that of the United States. China's defense budget for 2011 was about $92 billion, which was dwarfed by the US's $725 billion. And while China's investment in defense has increased moderately based on the country's economic development and growth in fiscal revenue and expenditure, the US has maintained its high military spending amid a severe budgetary deficit.

US President Barack Obama signed into law a $662 billion defense spending plan for the 2012 fiscal year, indicating a reduction of $63 billion on the surface. But given that the US troop withdrawal from Iraq and its reduced military presence in Afghanistan has trimmed some $100 billion from its military spending, the US has actually raised its defense budget by billions of dollars.

It is also noteworthy that the US' military expense burden derives from its major military programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program and this is much alleviated by the eight other countries of its worldwide military alliance network that are helping develop the new supersonic fighter. Despite this, the US military budget, in Obama's words, will continue to be larger than roughly the next 10 countries combined.

In contrast, China has been conforming to its independent diplomacy and security policy, and its defense spending still falls short of its actual needs considering the pressure it has to withstand from the complex external security environment. The truth is its military spending falls far behind that of other major military powers in terms of per capita expenditure. Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute show that although it ranked as the world's second largest military spender in 2010, China's per capita defense spending is only $74, far less than the US' $2,141 and Japan's $401.

China has more than enough reasons to raise its defense budget to enhance its defensive military capability. The continual attempts by Western countries to occupy the moral high ground and point their fingers at China's defense spending are actually unjustifiable. They really need to abandon their long-held prejudice and learn how to accept and peacefully coexist with China, a rising power that will always adhere to its peaceful development path and a defensive military strategy.

The author is a rear admiral and former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the People's Liberation Army National Defense University.

(China Daily 03/06/2012 page10)

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