China's Beefed-Up Defense
Image Credit: Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff

China's Beefed-Up Defense


China’s annual defense budget is set to double by 2015 and exceed that of all other major Asia-Pacific countries, according to figures from leading defense consultancy IHS Jane’s.

The numbers, which were sent through to me this week, suggest China’s defense budget will soar to $238 billion – more than the next 12 leading Asia-Pacific countries combined, and four times that of second place Japan, which will be spending an estimated $64 billion.

As Rajiv Biswas, chief economist for the Asia-Pacific at IHS Global Insight, noted, Beijing has been broadly able to devote an increasingly large portion of its overall budget towards defense, and “has been steadily building up its military capabilities for more than two decades.”

“This will continue unless there’s an economic catastrophe. Conversely Japan and India may have to hold back due to significant economic challenges. Japan’s government debt and the investment needed after Fukushima will impact defense spend. We will increasingly see budget channeled towards key programs and equipment. India’s government debt and fiscal deficit is very high as share of GDP, and the rupee depreciated significantly in 2011 – all of which will limit India’s defense ambitions.”

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is finishing up a five-day visit to the United States this week, a trip undoubtedly aimed in part at mollifying U.S. concerns over its rise and presenting a friendlier face (although holding this face won’t have been easy, with Xi receiving the expected election year scolding over playing fair and human rights).

One of the concerns the U.S. and others have is China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, an area that China has made expansive claims to, but which is also claimed by countries including Vietnam and the Philippines. The U.S. has insisted that it supports freedom of navigation in the region, a position that irks Beijing, which is keen that Washington respect its “core interests.”

All this ties into the latest defense figures because an increasingly powerful Chinese military may become more emboldened to assert its claims more “robustly.” This is a point picked up by American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Auslin writing in The Diplomat yesterday, who notes potential lessons from the fall of Singapore back in 1942.

“There remains every reason for Washington and Beijing to keep peaceful relations. But history is full of surprises, usually for status quo powers. The United States maintains extraordinary strength and with the right economic growth policies can be the world’s dominant nation for decades to come,” writes Auslin. “But it may not be able to be dominant all the time in regions with rising powers. The lessons of Singapore remind us not to overestimate our strengths and to honestly face up to our weaknesses.”

One question, then, is whether China’s ramped up military spending is likely to be used to assert its claims in the region. I asked Paul Burton, Jane’s senior defense budget analyst, for some details on what exactly the money is set to be spent on. He noted that the country’s military aircraft spending is set to rise from $7.8 billion in 2012 to $11.3 billion in 2015, while Beijing also “continues to bolster its space capabilities, launching the Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft on 3 November and docking it with the Tiangong-1 space laboratory.” 

“These two markets alone are due to increase by nearly $7 billion between 2012 and 2015,” he said. “Both would be regarded as offensive.”

So, is a pumped up Chinese military budget an inevitability that China’s neighbors – and the United States – will have to learn to live with? Not necessarily, according to Flashpoints contributor Trefor Moss.

“It is important to remember that military modernization, for all the headlines it generates, is not Beijing's number one priority,” Moss noted recent in Jane’s Defence Weekly. “National development takes precedence, and in 2011 the internal security budget outstripped the defense budget for the first time. If a period of social and economic instability is approaching, these two areas would definitely be ahead of defense in the queue for extra funds.”

This is unlikely to mean that China’s defense budget is actually cut – it would take more than the global economic slowdowns to make that happen. But with Europe struggling to get its economic act together, and with the United States’ economic recovery still fragile, the possibility of China having to slow defense spending certainly can’t be ruled out.

Shio Matsumoto
April 9, 2012 at 07:41

Act, the truth about Okinawa is that we don’t want to be Washington and Tokyo’s sacrificial lamb. We abhor the thought of Chinese missiles raining down on our small little island with that bl**dy American Futenma base smack right in the middle of our town and island when the war begins. Let Washington take their base to somewhere where there are no citizens living nearby. Like Guam. Please get out, Yanks! Especially if you want to instigate wars in the East Asian region instead of your own backyard or on your soil. We will not be your collateral damage.

February 24, 2012 at 06:22


you didn’t necessarily answer my question of why china feels that it has a sacred right to these territories….

as an answer to your “under god” question, that and the “indivisible” part were part of the original pledge of allegiance, which was created in the 1950′s when there was a great moral panic about the communists in Russia being “godless cretins”, which is obviously not the case.

as i noted before, I take a disparaging view of China due to its history, which i mentioned earlier. However much these arguments or whatnot have been rehashed over the years, they all contain a grain of truth. certainly not about being “godless” (i’m an atheist myself), but one fact flies out at me in all my reading; despite alleged differences and lengths of development, China and the US are in many ways similar; they both claim to be the light of the world, they both were founded and expanded via the subjugation and absorption of other groups of people, and both have a history of being profoundly supremacist in their thinking… Basically, both nations and their peoples have collective egos the size of a small planet and due to the belief that each is inherently superior, they are now coming into conflict.

February 24, 2012 at 04:32

So you agree that you are barbaric because you said “when you are strong you are no less barbaric!”.
This is why nobody trusts the Chinese in Asia – for anything! Even In business, Chinese are seen as deceptive and devious and people with no honor. You will find this attitude amongst most Asian people who have dealings with the Chinese for generations.
In China they see the religious Tibetans, the plain speaking Mongols as being “barbaric.”

February 24, 2012 at 02:02

“China has vast stretches of deserts to the west. Tibet is like the Rocky Moutain areas of the US. The sparsely populated areas to the north is like Canada. And the Inner Mongolia region is like most of Australia. Why should China go to Canada, Australia and the US when it has plenty of land with similar climate and topography to expand into?”

Wait a minute. All the areas you mentioned China invaded from other countries. Which countries are you planning to invade next?

February 23, 2012 at 21:29

I meant to say “Your Comrade John Chan…”

February 23, 2012 at 21:26

You need to stop pretending China is harmless and peaceful. China’s actions suggest everyone to believe the opposite. Your Comrade admitted China is an aggressor by moving my chess around.

Srey Doung
February 23, 2012 at 19:30

Chinese should be called out for their past sins for sure. But to blast Chinese in order to hide your own sins is no more a defence. See how bombastic you have become because I have touched that weak spot of yours that you always try to hide. Now you know what it is like to have a taste of your own medicine.

February 23, 2012 at 19:01

Dear the readers,

Note that how chinse posters would NOT able to dispute my previous statements but have to resort to “but but other nations did bad things too”. Typical of ignorant/clueless/uneducated chinese.

February 23, 2012 at 18:58

@ Srey Doung

Funny how you “forgot” to talk about bully china currently occupying sovereign nations such as Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia. Funny how you and your own kind “forgot” countless times that china attacked and enslaved little Vietnam and yet still got their behinds kicked out by Vietnam over and over time after time. Funny how you “forgot” about Guangxi and Guangdong that china took from Vietnam. Funny how you “forgot” to mention Vietnam removed the bloody Khmer Rouge (supported by china) and did NOT take over the whole nation based on some “historic evidences” as china always did to smaller neighbors (see above).

Losing side? You mean how china lose in 1979 (PLA), in the 1800′s (Quing), 1400′s (Yuan and Mongol – the same Mongol that slaughtered chinese like sheeps) and countless other times from little Vietnam? Typical of pathetic china and chinese, afraid of losing face = big empty talk. Shame and humilition, again, as usual.

February 23, 2012 at 18:00

You are absolutely right.
Let’s look at history and evidences. It’s interesting you mentioned China´s massacre unarmed Vietnamese in Spratly 1988. China filmed the whole event and posted on YouTube as trophies

Srey Doung
February 23, 2012 at 15:26


Please look yourself in the mirror and see how you Vietnamese treat the Khmer people. The current South Vietnam belonged to Cambodia, the current central Vietnam belonged to the Champa people, and you Vietnamese invaded and robbed them of their lands and destroyed everything that belonged to them.

Typical Vietnamese, worse than Chinese. When you are on the losing side, you cry bloody. When you get a chance, you vietnamese are no less barbaric.

February 23, 2012 at 07:44

DRC wrote:
Apart from world domination, China needs “living space” even more than did Hitler’s Germany. “Only countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia have the vast land to serve our needs for mass colonization”
China has vast stretches of deserts to the west. Tibet is like the Rocky Moutain areas of the US. The sparsely populated areas to the north is like Canada. And the Inner Mongolia region is like most of Australia. Why should China go to Canada, Australia and the US when it has plenty of land with similar climate and topography to expand into?

February 23, 2012 at 04:13

The more you talk the more you reveal yourself to have no original thoughts. All your demonizations of China have been warmed over and rehashed for decades. They have all been asked and answered ad nauseam. Nobody is stupid enough to believe it them anymore.

In the end, it is a very fortunate thing for China that it is finally stronger than the US and can ultimately be many times stronger. Protection of national sovereignty is the ultimate duty of any nation. Why did the US fight the Civil War? Why does it keep saing “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for all.” Hey, according to your protestations, no nation should be “obsessed” with defending its territories. So why are the Americans so obsessed with keeping their nation “INDIVISIBLE”? Just let it fly apart, why don’t you!

February 23, 2012 at 03:55


All your fulminations is obviously for one purpose only which is to enable America to insinuate itself into the position of ruler of the world. In other words, it is America who wants to rule the world. What you are doing is say to the world, “Hey, look what a dangerous devil China is. You all better unite and vand get behind me as your leader so we can fight this evil together.” And hey presto, America becomes the global ruler. But the rest of the world is not as stupid as you think they are. They look at China and ask in what way is China being aggressive? We don’t see any Chinese colony around the world far away from their homeland. We see only colonies or former colonies of white men and Japan. It is white men and the Japanese who had killed millions of our peoples. We welcome China to be our protector against the proven aggressors who are Japan, America, and Europe. In the end, nobody in the world feel themselves threatened by China. And the only people who feel themselves threatened are Japan, India, and the US and their lackeys who fear that a rising China will protect the weaker nations against their aggression.

February 23, 2012 at 01:03

the other reason why i’m so critical of it, is that in the long run there’s no reason for there to be a conflict, military or otherwise between China and the US; for all the realpolitik, the conflict between China and the US is, in my honest opinion, merely the continuation of what began with the opium war; in other words, it’s a cultural superiority contest that is–in the end–no more mature than having two skiers stand out in the snow and see who can spit the furthest. Bringing up and using past grievances for foreign policy is much the same; just look at what it’s done to Israel and Palestine–and over RELIGION of all things!

February 23, 2012 at 00:57

thankyou, everyone, for your advice. Keep in mind that i’m only considering this.

i’ve lived in several nations; i’m currently in the US, but i was born in Canada, and have lived in the UK, Mexico and France. Perhaps China or Japan would help expand that world view; i have something of a fascination with the region and its history, but to be honest, i struggle with languages other than the romance languages (latin, french, spanish, italian, portugese).

I’m currently an undergraduate aiming for a masters in history; when i make arguments on here, i usually base them on what i know from the history of China, The US, Japan and the surrounding area, as well as US-China relations since i’ve taken several college classes on all of them; i’m in the process of reading several books on US-China rivalry as well. This is in addition to looking up information from academic resources (such as my college’s library database). My pattern in writing papers is usually that i select a subject, select a thesis, and then find evidence that proves or disproves it; i managed to successfully link Japan’s current fertility crisis to a cultural continuity of outlook and law that has existed since the Tokugawa era.

I have no hatred for the Chinese people; the reason why i criticize the policies of the PRC so heavily, however, is that for all the claims of aspiring to be the “light of the world”, the PRC has been perhaps the most hypocritical country in its policies second only to the United States

February 23, 2012 at 00:45

LOL @ all the big tough talk from chinese posters. Let take a look at history, shall we?

Please do tell us how bad your own accestors fought against competent military forces. Do tell us how your own kind fought against Japan, Britain, Manchus, Mongolia. How did your ancestors fought for the last few thousands years against little Vietnam? What were the results? HUGE HUMILIATION AND SHAME!!!!

Typical of china/chinese, inferior complex and afraid of losing face = big tough empty talk. I wonder why china and chinese would not dare to take on Russia and take back the land north of Amur river? Oh, I forgot, so easy to push around little guys but so afraid of big guy. Typical of pathetic bully china.

One more thing, do tell us what year and what battle that Vietnam and Phillipines took islands in the East Sea from china. Go ahead and tell us. I can tell you that it was china that attacked Vietnam and Phillipines and took their islands in 1974, 1988, and 1995. It was pathetic china that was the invader.

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