China expects to increase its defense budget for 2020 citing increased “defense threats from Western countries led by the U.S.” according to a report by the state-run Global Times on Tuesday.
The 2020 draft defense budget is expected to be released this Friday when the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp legislature, convenes in Beijing. According to the article, which cites Chinese military “experts,” the budget could increase by up to six percent to 1.25 trillion yuan (about $1.77 billion).
The report claimed that the “COVID-19 [Wuhan coronavirus] pandemic has raised additional national defense demands” due to increased military threats from Western countries, especially the U.S. “Since the start of 2020, the U.S. has been frequently sending warships and warplanes into the South China Sea,” the article says.
The article fails to explain that the U.S. has been forced to increase its military presence in the South China Sea as a direct response to Chinese-initiated provocations in the region. The U.S. military, along with other Western countries like Australia, has deployed warships and fighter jets to operate near southeast Asian countries bordering the sea in a show of support after they were bullied by the Chinese military in recent weeks.
In April, the U.S. and Australia supported Malaysia by deploying warships to its waters after a Chinese fleet followed a Malaysian drillship for an entire month trying to thwart its oil exploration activities, which it eventually did. Beijing illegally claims to have sovereign rights over the waters and natural resources explored by Malaysia within its own exclusive economic zone.
China “needs to continue expanding its naval arsenal and conduct frequent patrols and exercises in related waters to safeguard territorial integrity and national sovereignty,” said one Chinese military expert interviewed for the report. Beijing’s claims to “sovereignty” over “related waters” such as the South China Sea have no legal standing and were dismissed by an international court ruling in 2016. China claims practically the entire sea, forging ahead despite the ruling to establish a significant military presence in the waters. This presence has increased sharply in recent years and especially in recent months with the world distracted by the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
The Global Times article cites an April report on world military expenditures in 2019 released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in an effort to demonstrate that the U.S. spends significantly more on its defense budget than China: “According to [the SIPRI] report, the U.S. drives global military expenditure growth, spending a whopping $732 billion in 2019. By comparison, China only spent $261 billion. The number for China in the report is higher than China’s official figure.”
Although the article’s authors fail to explain why they would cite a military expenditures report they allege to be inaccurate in terms of their own country’s defense budget, the admission that China’s actual military budget differs from that officially reported seems most significant.
According to a March report by national security news site Defense One, the discrepancies between the military budget released by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its true figures have long been established, a byproduct of a military run by the Communist party, in which aspects of the military pervade political and economic life.
Further complicating accurate comparisons are the unique characteristics of China’s party-run military, such as military-civil fusion, usage of state-owned enterprise, theft of intellectual property, and the embedding of party organizations in private companies. Some of these elements, even if known, are simply unquantifiable.”
According to the article’s author – a military defense budgeting analyst – the best way to discern an accurate defense budget from the CCP’s intentionally obscure figures is to “remove all military R&D [research and development] from the calculations,” as China fails to account for R&D in all military expenditures released to the public.
“[T]he [Communist] party-government omits and withholds data to project a non-threatening image of its People’s Liberation Army [PLA],” the article explained.
China alludes to this hidden military development in its Tuesday report, claiming that “[a]n expanding defense budget would also give more funding to China’s military research and development [R&D], which is actually boosting domestic demand at a time when exports are being hit by the [Wuhan coronavirus] pandemic.”
According to the April 2020 SIPRI report, China remains “the world’s second-largest military spender” and “is estimated to have allocated $261 billion to the military in 2019—equivalent to 14 percent of global military expenditure. Its military spending in 2019 was 5.1 percent higher than in 2018 and 85 percent higher than in 2010.”
Defense One’s March report calculated that China’s military budget is “about 87 percent of America’s” after accounting for the CCP’s manipulation of publicly-released data.