China continues to widen the gap between its military spending on the one hand, and that of its neighbors throughout Asia on the other, according to a new report by a prominent English think tank.
On Wednesday the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) released its annual Military Balance report, considered by many to be among the most authoritative unclassified estimates of global defense spending.
In line with past years, IISS concluded that the gap between Asian and Western military spending continued to narrow as Asia’s defense spending rose while most of the Western countries cut defense spending. “In Asia, the growth of defense budgets is accelerating and military procurements are rising,” IISS said in a press release. “The shift in the global distribution of military power towards Asia, highlighted by the IISS in recent years, has continued.”
In the report, IISS noted that real defense spending is not only on the rise in the Asia-Pacific, but its growth rate has been in accelerating in recent years. “In real terms, Asian defense spending in 2013 was 9.4 percent higher than it was in 2011,” the report said. It noted that this included a mere 2 percent rise in 2011, a 4.5 percent rise in 2012, and a 4.7 percent rise last year.
Although most countries in the region are spending more on defense, the report found that the growth in China’s defense spending far outpaces that of its neighbors in absolute terms. Indeed, growth in China’s military spending in 2013 accounted for 46 percent of the total growth in the entire region. Northeast Asia in general continues to dominate regional defense spending, accounting for nearly 64 percent of all defense spending in the region. Northeast Asia also accounted for 57 percent of the region’s real defense spending increases last year, despite Taiwan’s military spending actually contracting.
As a result of China’s robust increases in military spending, the gap between it and many of its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific continues to widen. As one observer noted in response to IISS’s new report, “China now spends around three times as much as India on defense, and more than neighbors Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam combined.”
Notably, China also spends far less on personnel as a percentage of its total budget than most of the other countries in the region. This means that more of China’s defense spending can go to other uses, such as procurement. Last year, IISS estimated that personnel costs accounted for just 30 percent of the People’s Liberation Army’s entire budget. By contrast, IISS estimates that personnel costs eat up 43 percent of Pakistan’s budget, 44 percent of Japan’s, and 45 percent of India’s military budget. In Afghanistan, personnel costs accounted for a whopping 85 percent of all defense spending.
The rapid rise in China’s military spending, combined with a more assertive diplomatic posture, are causing much greater concern throughout Asia. Interestingly, after years of largely downplaying or ignoring the implications of China’s military modernization, U.S. officials have been expressing ever-increasing alarm in recent weeks.
For example, in his annual testimony to the U.S. Congress this week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that China has been “quite aggressive in asserting in what they see as their manifest destiny.” In his own appearance before Congress on Wednesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel expressed particular alarm about China’s actions in the South China Sea.
“There is a growing concern that this pattern of behavior in the South China Sea reflects an incremental effort by China to assert control over the area contained in the so-called ‘nine-dash line,’ despite the objections of its neighbors and despite the lack of any explanation or apparent basis under international law regarding the scope of the claim itself. China’s lack of clarity with regard to its South China Sea claims has created uncertainty, insecurity and instability in the region,” Russel said.
Lawmakers in Congress have been equally concerned about China’s maritime disputes in the South and East China Sea as of late. After largely ignoring them for years, a number of Congressional committees and subcommittees have been holding meetings about the sovereignty disputes in Asia in which most lawmakers take a hard line on China.
Echoing Clapper’s remarks this week, the somewhat hawkish Senator John McCain (R-AZ) dismissed claims that China’s increasing assertiveness was motivated by national pride or the CCP’s internal politics and desire to increase its support among China’s populace. Rather, McCain argued: “This is a matter of a rising threat or challenge to peace and security in Asia because of the profound belief in the Chinese leadership that China must, and will, regain the dominant role that they had for a couple of thousand years in Asia.”