Asia military spending

Updated: 2012-03-12 08:11

(China Daily)

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For the first time in modern history, Asia's defense spending will exceed Europe's this year, according to the "Military Balance 2012" report released on March 7 by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank.

Foreign media like to trumpet loudly that China's growing assertiveness is fueling this boom in military spending. But to a large extent the increased military spending in Asia simply reflects the eastward shift in global economic power.

In fact, it is the decline in Europe's defense spending that has produced this watershed moment rather than any growing belligerence on Asia's part.

While Asia's defense spending has increased by 3.15 percent overall, according to the report, defense spending in at least 16 European NATO member states has decreased since the onset of the global financial crisis, and for "a significant proportion" of these the real-terms declines have exceeded 10 percent.

Meanwhile, the "return to Asia" strategy of the United States has also contributed to Asian countries' rising defense budgets, as the US has been keen to sell arms to countries and regions that have security ties with it, such as Australia, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea, in order to prop up its own moribund economy.

And, although NATO maintains its aspiration for member states to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense, China's national defense budget was only 1.28 percent of its GDP in 2011.

China has always adopted a moderate rise in its annual defense budget, reflecting the government's adherence to its central task of economic development. The 11.2 percent increase for 2012 will raise its defense spending to $106.4 billion, less than 15 percent of the US'.

This increase is appropriate for the modernization of its military if it is to safeguard a stable environment for its development and support global and regional security.

Rather than focusing on the growth of defense spending in the region and seeing in it signs of potential conflict, it is better to reflect on the European experience after World War II of turning hostility into friendship.

Territorial disputes, which have been aggravated by the US on its return to Asia, have raised tensions between China and its neighbors in the South China Sea. But Asian countries have the capability and wisdom to resolve these disputes through diplomatic efforts and confidence-building measures.

(China Daily 03/12/2012 page9)