China boosts its military spending by 7.2pc

Chinese soldiers
China has more than 500 operational nuclear warheads in its arsenal and will probably have more than 1,000 by 2030 - Jia Fangwen/VCG via Getty

China announced a 7.2 per cent rise in defence spending on Tuesday and pledged to strengthen its military preparedness, amid high tensions with the US and its Asian neighbours.

The increase, roughly mirroring similar rises over the past nine straight years, keeps the Chinese defence budget as the second highest in the world behind the US, at $222 billion, alarming competing powers as Beijing extends its assertive foreign policy across the Indo-Pacific.

Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said China’s rapidly expanding military power was a “serious concern” for Japan and the international society.

The announcement, in a key annual speech by Li Qiang, the Chinese premier, to the country’s top legislature, coincided with a violent confrontation in the South China Sea between the Chinese coast guard and a Philippine vessel bringing supplies to troops stationed on a disputed shoal.

Manila accused the coast guard of “dangerous manoeuvres” that led to a collision that left the Philippine ship with minor damage.

Competing territorial claims in the South and East China Seas between Beijing and a raft of countries including the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam are fuelling China’s steady acquisition of hi-tech military technologies, as well as the growth of its nuclear arsenal, air force and navy.

The official budget indicated at the legislature’s annual keynote “two sessions” meeting is believed to be only a fraction of actual spending by the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the ruling Communist party, as it excludes purchase of foreign military equipment and R&D, reported the AP.

China has more than 500 operational nuclear warheads in its arsenal and will probably have more than 1,000 by 2030, the Pentagon said in an annual report last year, concluding that Beijing’s nuclear arms build-up was happening faster than projected.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy already surpassed the US Navy in fleet size around 2020, the US defence department warned in 2022.

Recent state media footage showed the Fujian, China’s third and most advanced aircraft carrier, is equipped with electromagnetic catapults and arresting devices, which allow fighter jets to be launched more frequently.

Mr Li pledged the country would “comprehensively strengthen military training and combat readiness” to “firmly safeguard” sovereignty and security interests.

He said this year the country would take “critical steps to meet the century goals of the PLA,” which falls in 2027 and which has been cited by senior US defence officials as an important juncture when the Chinese military could be capable of invading Taiwan, although not that it would definitely do so.

Beijing’s staggering military expansion is nonetheless of growing concern for Taiwan, which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controversially claims as its own and threatens to seize by force if Taipei does not agree to annexation.

Mr Li repeated the CCP’s mantra of opposition to “Taiwan independence” and external interference, adding that while Beijing would promote the peaceful development of cross-strait relations, it would “unswervingly” advance the great cause of reunification.

A spokesman for the National People’s Congress argued that China’s military spending in proportion to GDP is lower than the US and other major military powers.

Zhang Junshe, a Chinese military expert, told the Global Times, a nationalistic state media outlet, that the budget increase was moderate and reasonable, pointing to aggressive spending increases in countries like Japan.

In his keynote speech, Mr Li also announced China’s aim to grow its GDP by “around 5 per cent” this year despite slow economic recovery from the pandemic and a difficult global environment.