China’s defense budget for 2023 will be unveiled on Sunday at the National People’s Congress (NPC) half of the annual “Two Sessions” legislative event.
Chinese state media touted the new budget as a substantial increase in military spending – and China is reportedly spending some of its money to buy a disturbing amount of Russian uranium, with an eye to producing weapons-grade nuclear material.
China’s state-run Global Times predictably praised the authoritarian regime’s military buildup as “steadily and reasonably” investing in “modernization,” with an eye toward the “security tensions China is being confronted with” – in other words, the looming possibility that the people Beijing is trying to drive off their land might start fighting back.
On the same day in December when Chinese and US diplomats said they’d held constructive talks to reduce military tensions, Russian engineers were delivering a massive load of nuclear fuel to a remote island just 220 kilometers off Taiwan’s northern coast. https://t.co/5D9qoJ6ZAx
— Stuart Lau (@StuartKLau) March 2, 2023
The Global Times insisted modernization requires large expenditures over long periods of time and insisted there was nothing provocative about the budget increases because China spent modestly before 2000 – but then admitted the pace of increased spending is still accelerating, even after years of “modernization,” and the only reason Chinese “experts” could think of was the looming menace of Taiwan:
Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times that China’s defense budget growth rate for 2023 could be higher than that of 2022.
Over the past year, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has led to a severe deterioration in the global security situation. Around China, then US house speaker Nancy Pelosi provocatively visited China’s Taiwan region in August 2022, the US frequently hyped a potential conflict between China and the US, and Japan has broken away from its defense-only principle and has started procuring offensive missiles that could reach China.
Under such an unfavorable situation, China needs to enhance its armed forces’ combat readiness, including boosting the procurement of new weapons and equipment, intensifying realistic combat-oriented exercises, and improving troop welfare, which all require extra funding, Song said.
The Global Times then insisted no one should criticize China’s military spending spree because “U.S. military expenditure remains three to four times that of China,” and U.S. allies like Japan, Britain, France, Germany, and Australia are spending more, as well. Of course, the Global Times did not dwell on the fact that some of those other countries are spending more on defense to counter Chinese aggression.
“If China joins the global trend of defense spending hikes, it should not be considered as participating in an arms race, as China’s military expenditure accounts for only a small proportion of its GDP,” the Global Times insisted.
China began beefing up its nuclear capabilities in 2021. According to Bloomberg News on Wednesday, Russian engineers delivered a “massive load of nuclear fuel” in December to a breeder reactor on Changbiao Island – a facility that could soon begin cranking out enough weapons-grade plutonium to increase China’s stockpile of nuclear warheads by 400 percent in 12 years.
Bloomberg quoted scientists who said the exact purpose of the Changbiao reactor is unclear, but since the Chinese are no longer keeping civilian and military plutonium stockpiles separate for reporting purposes, there are reasons to believe Beijing wants the option of bringing its nuclear inventory closer to U.S. and Russian levels – and Russia is eager to help.
“The increasing secrecy and strong diplomatic efforts against providing greater transparency have raised international suspicion. I don’t think anyone can rule out the potential military use,” Princeton University visiting research scholar Tong Zhao told Bloomberg.
China currently has the world’s third-largest atomic weapons inventory, but it lags far behind the 5,000-6,000 warheads kept by the U.S. and Russia. If the Changbiao reactor is used for creating warheads, China’s stockpile would grow to about 1,500 warheads by 2035.
As for Russia, it is positioned to become the indispensable supplier of plutonium for China’s efforts, which would improve Russia’s stature somewhat as the very junior partner in China’s rising axis of authoritarianism. It would also give Moscow a chance to stick its thumb in Uncle Sam’s eye.
“Whatever is bad for the U.S. and whenever you can strengthen American competitors, is viewed now as a good thing for Russia,” explained Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior fellow Alexander Gabuev.