China defence spending expected to jump again

Chinese military vehicles going past Tiananmen Gate during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, on Sept 3, 2015.
Chinese military vehicles going past Tiananmen Gate during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, on Sept 3, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China will likely announce another huge increase in defence spending as the Chinese Communist Party seeks to assuage the military's unhappiness at sweeping reforms and as worries over the South China Sea and Taiwan weigh on Beijing.

Military spending last year was budgeted to jump by 10.1 per cent, outpacing slowing, single-digit growth in gross domestic product, and another double-digit rise looks set to be announced at the annual meeting of China's Parliament next month.

One source who meets senior officers regularly said a 30 per cent increase had been mooted in military circles, though the actual rise was unlikely to be that dramatic.

"The party has got to show the troop cuts don't mean the military is being ignored or shunted aside," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

President Xi Jinping, who has rattled nerves in the region with an increasingly muscular attitude to territorial disputes in the East and South China seas, is now seeking to drag the People's Liberation Army (PLA) into the modern age, cutting 300,000 jobs and revamping the Cold War-era command structure.

But the reforms have run into opposition from soldiers and officers worried about job security.

"Xi has to keep them on his side as there's so much unhappiness and uncertainty in the ranks," the source said.

The Defence Ministry declined to comment when asked what might factor into any rise in spending.

The official People's Liberation Army Daily gave some insight into the disquiet in the ranks in a commentary last month, saying some soldiers were "lost in hesitation" at the prospect of reform and uncertain of its benefits.

Another PLA Daily commentary this month told soldiers not to "think too much" about whether they would keep their jobs, and focus instead on ensuring their loyalty to the Communist Party.

"Where are the 300,000 going to go? There's no information. Are the SOEs supposed to employ them?" said one senior Beijing- based Western diplomat who follows military politics, referring to state-owned enterprises.

At 886.9 billion yuan (S$191 billion), China's budgeted defence spending last year was around a quarter that of the United States, but its military is modernising rapidly after a nearly unbroken two-decade run of annual double-digit rises in its budget.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2016, with the headline 'China defence spending expected to jump again'. Print Edition | Subscribe