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The United States and Its Allies are Watching China’s Defense Spending with Concern

The United States and its allies in the region have expressed concern about China's growing military capabilities and its potential to challenge the regional balance of power.

China’s recent decision to increase its defense spending by 7.1% to $229.47 billion has drawn attention to the country’s military capabilities and global ambitions. However, even with this significant increase, China’s defense spending still lags behind that of the United States.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United States spent $778 billion on defense in 2020, which is more than three times China’s spending. Other top spenders include India, which spent $72.9 billion, and Russia, which spent $61.7 billion.

Recent data show that the defense budgets of many countries have been continuously increasing despite national and global economic slowdowns. In fact, the total global military expenditure for 2023 signifies the building of a “warfare economy” which some countries use to mint profits.

China has strongly defended increase in military spending. According to China Daily The United States unveiled a defense budget of $857.9 for 2023 — an increase of a record 13.9 percent. Not only does the US have the highest defense budget in the world (more than the combined total of several countries) but also the US has vowed to provide at least $800 million in security aid to Ukraine as well as providing other aid including $6.5 billion for the US costs of sending troops and weapons to Eastern Europe and equipping allied forces so they can defeat Russia.

Japan, too, has raised its military expenditure by 26.3 percent to a record high of 6.3 trillion yen ($49.84 billion). Last year, the Japanese government set a goal of doubling the defense budget’s share of the GDP to 2 percent by 2027, not least because it plans to spend a record amount of money on US-made Tomahawk cruise missiles to increase its strike capability, Li Daguang Professor at the School of Law, Hainan University, and a former military scholar wrote in China Daily.

European Union member states have also joined the arms race by raising their defense budgets, with the US urging NATO countries with relatively small military budgets to substantially increase their defense budget. For instance, the French government has approved a military budget of more than €43.9 billion ($42.8 billion), up 7.4 percent year-on-year.

And the German government has set up a €100-billion defense fund to meet the NATO’s target of spending 2 percent of GDP. Many other European countries have also increased their defense budget, with the United Kingdom planning to double its defense budget by 2030 so that it accounts for 3 percent of GDP. Overall, all major military powers have raised their military budgets for 2023 by quite a high margin.

In particular, the US has increased its defense budget in order to corner Russia and to check China’s rise.

China will spend $229.47 billion on defense this year, according to estimates presented to the National People’s Congress, the Chinese parliament, by the country’s premier, Li Keqiang. Its defense budget rose 6.8% in 2021 and 6.6% in 2020.

Making a strong case for the higher defense expenditure, Li said, “Government at all levels must give strong support to the development of national defense and the armed forces, so unity between the military and government and between the military and the people will remain rock solid.” He emphasizes the need to modernize the military’s logistics and build a modern weaponry and equipment management system.

China, which has two aircraft carriers, plans to invest in two more. It has engaged in a sea rivalry with the U.S. Navy, which has 11 of them. The U.S.-China rivalry is evident because the U.S. sent aircraft carrier strike groups and amphibious groups into the South China Sea 13 times last year, according to Beijing-based research group the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative.

Members of an air assault brigade of the PLA airborne troops performs an anti-terrorism rescue mission during the Air Force opening-day event in 2021. [Photo by Wan Quan for China Daily]

The Reuters news agency quoted Fu Qianshao, a retired Chinese air force equipment specialist, as saying, “Equipment is needed to fill performance gaps, and aircraft carriers, large warships, stealth fighters, third and fourth generations of tanks are expensive.”

China’s defense spending has been increasing steadily over the past decade, and the country has been investing heavily in new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, hypersonic missiles, and unmanned systems. However, it still faces significant challenges in modernizing its military and closing the gap with the United States.

A major area of focus is China’s military behavior in its neighborhood. Most of the country’s neighbors, including countries around the South China Sea, feel threatened by the rise in the strength of the People’s Liberation Army, which represents the land army, the navy and the air force.

The recent formation of the AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, United States) and QUAD (Australia, India, Japan, United States) partnerships has raised concerns in China about political and military threats to its regional dominance. The AUKUS partnership, in particular, has sparked a diplomatic row between China and Australia, which was seen as a provocation by Beijing.

The AUKUS partnership is focused on developing new defense technologies, such as nuclear-powered submarines, and strengthening security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. The QUAD partnership is aimed at promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific and enhancing security cooperation among its members.

China has criticized both partnerships as attempts to contain its rise and undermine its sovereignty. It has also warned that these partnerships could lead to a new arms race and regional instability. However, the United States and its partners have defended the partnerships as necessary to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

The United States’ political threats to China, including the AUKUS and QUAD partnerships, could have significant impacts on global relations and stability. China’s increasing military and economic power has raised concerns in the United States about its ability to challenge American dominance and threaten its allies in the region.

The United States has responded by strengthening its alliances and partnerships in the region and increasing its military presence. However, these actions have also raised concerns about the potential for conflict and escalation, particularly in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.

In addition, the United States and China have been engaged in a broader strategic competition that has played out in areas such as technology, trade, and human rights. This competition could have significant impacts on the global economy and international order.

Overall, the United States’ political threats to China are likely to continue to shape global relations and security dynamics in the coming years. How these tensions are managed will have significant implications for regional stability and the future of the international system.


The views and opinions expressed in the preceding text are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Coverpage. 

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