CHINA BOOSTS MILITARY MUSCLE WITH $100 BLN DEFENCE BUDGET
Author : C.Uday Bhaskar
China's official defence budget will
cross the $100 billion mark this year as per a statement released Sunday
in Beijing. This allocation marks an increase of 11.2 per cent over the
last year to 670.27 billion yuan - which corresponds to $106 billion.
The annual increase has been relatively modest, given that over the last
decade the increase has been closer to 20 percent, but this may have
been impelled by the prevailing socio-political and fiscal challenges
that even a robust economy like China has to contend with.
The trend lines are instructive and it may be recalled that in March
2008, Beijing had announced an official defence budget that corresponded
to $57 billion, and now in 2012 - four years later - the figure at $106
billion has almost doubled.
Yet the PRC draws attention to the statistic that this figure is less
than two percent of the country's GDP and that if the gross/absolute
defence figure is climbing steadily - it is more due to the overall
growth of the GDP.
If this trend is maintained, then it would be reasonable to expect that
by 2016 - the PRC's official defence budget will be in the bandwidth of
The contrast with the U.S. - the current global 'gorilla' and the
preeminent military power - is striking. The U.S. allocates upwards of
half a trillion dollars for defence and with the additional costs
incurred due to the two post 9/11 wars it is waging - this figure has
been in the range of $700 billion and is between 3 to 4 percent of
Clearly, China will take more than a decade to reach this fiscal peg -
if current extrapolation about GDP growth rates and defence allocations
The major military tussle over the next two years is likely to be
between the U.S., Russia and China, with each dyad exuding different
degrees of anxiety. With Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin on the
cards - and a new leadership waiting in the wings to follow President Hu
Jintao - it will be instructive to monitor the defence cooperation
between Moscow and Beijing with special emphasis on the trans-border
military capabilities that the Chinese PLA is seeking to acquire.
More by coincidence than design, India also announced its new army chief
at the time that Beijing was unveiling its new defence allocation. Lt.
General Bikram Singh, the Eastern Army Commander (Kolkata), will take
over from the beleaguered Gen VK Singh, the current army chief who
completes his tenure on May 31 - the date of birth controversy having
been resolved by the highest court in a Solomon-like manner.
With the office of the army chief having been bruised in recent months,
Lt. General Bikram Singh will have his hands full when he assumes
office, with a range of issues that will need immediate and sustained
attention - and none more critical than the modernisation of the Indian
Army's inventory - which is budget related.
Four years ago India projected a defence budget for the financial year
2008-09 as Rs.105,600 crores - which at the time was about $26 billion.
At the time China's was pegged at $57 billion - and that figure has now
reached $106 billion.
India will announce its own defence expenditure in mid-March - and it is
unlikely to cross the $50 billion mark. My own estimate is that it will
be closer to the $40 billion threshold - or below Rs. 200,000 crores.
The GDP-fiscal logic which shapes the Indian defence allocation is
self-evident. China's GDP is almost four times that of India's. But more
than the asymmetry in funding, the PLA as an institution and national
military preparedness has received single-minded policy attention from
the Chinese ruling apex spanning the Mao-Hu continuum.
India is a telling contrast, where attention paid by the political
spectrum on the military is episodic and emotional, rhetorical and
reactive. Little wonder that the outgoing army chief has cautioned his
Minister that the war-waging capability of the army has been "seriously
degraded" - given the inordinately long delays in procurement decisions.
Beijing and Rawalpindi would no doubt be studying this development very
China's defence tab crossing the $100 billion mark is significant and
the inherent opacity about China's public spending - especially for its
military - raises questions about the credibility of the official
Beijing's penchant for assertive muscle-flexing will cause some concern
in the region and India is not alone in this regard. But political Delhi
has to ensure that national security and husbanding the military
machine are not sacrificed on the zero-sum anvil of arid domestic
(Uday Bhaskar is a former director of the Institute for Defence Studies
and Analyses (IDSA) and currently Senior Research Fellow at the National
Maritime Foundation. He writes extensively on geopolitical issues in
South Asia. The views expressed in the column are his own. This article
first appeared in Reuters on March, 4, 2012.)