Military budget hoo-ha tempest in a teacup

Military budget hoo-ha tempest in a teacup
Fu Ying, spokeswoman of the third session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC), meets journalists from home and abroad at a press conference in Beijing.

China will raise its defence budget by around 10 per cent this year, compared with last year's 12.2 per cent, according to spokeswoman Fu Ying at the press conference for the annual session of the country's top legislature on Wednesday.

The exact figure will be published in a budget report on Thursday, but the military budget is calculated to be about 889 billion yuan (S$10 billion).

No wonder this military budget for this year has not unexpectedly been portrayed as evidence of the "China threat".

Whenever it is announced, the size, growth rate compared with the previous year, as well as its transparency are always held up as proof that China is "aggressively building up its military muscle".

Compared with previous years, this year's military budget has attracted special attention because of the hunt for "tigers", high-ranking corrupt elements, and "flies", lower-ranking ones, within the military.

A big "tiger", Xu Caihou, the former deputy chief of the Central Military Commission, was netted at the end of last year, and it was announced in January that another 16 senior military officers were under investigation.

This was followed on Monday by the announcement that a further 14 senior officers are being investigated, including Guo Zhenggang, the former deputy political commissar of the military command of Zhejiang province, who was promoted to major general in January.

Corruption has not only eroded many military officers' will, it has also weakened the fighting capability of the People's Liberation Army, and even abused the spending on military modernization - the case of Xu Caihou, who was revealed to have stored over a ton of banknotes in a bullet-proof room, is a big lesson that the Chinese military should bear in mind.

Only with a powerful anti-corruption campaign can China's military spending serve its purpose.

But as well as hunting the tigers and flies hidden in various ranks of the military, the military budget also needs to be more strictly supervised by the military auditing authorities.

It's true that some of the spending is hard to reveal because of military secrets, but that spending should be made as transparent as possible within the military.

Non-sensitive spending should be made public as the military budget comes from taxpayers and they have the right to know every cent is being used to better defend them.

Meanwhile, some Western media outlets have once again sensationalized China's military spending as a threat, by focusing on its double-digit growth.

But such speculation is absurd. The size and growth rate of a country's military budget, are only two of the main indexes for judging whether its military spending is reasonable, with two others being the military budget per capita and the percentage of GDP spent on the military.

If China's military budget is about $142 billion this year, it is still about $61,800 per capita, and the US defence budget for Fiscal Year of 2015 is about $600 billion for its 1.44 million military personnel, or $416,666 per capita; Japan spent 4.98 trillion yen (S$47 billion) for the 247,000 personnel in its self-defence forces, or $168,016 per capita. So China's per capita spending on its armed forces is much smaller than that of the US or Japan.

As to the second index, according to data from the Stockholm Peace Research Center, China's military budget accounts for 1.5 per cent of GDP, while the world average is about 2.6 per cent and that of US is 4.3 per cent; even that of Japan has reached 1 per cent, the upper limit set by its peaceful Constitution.

In fact, to narrow the military gap with Western developed powers and better defend its growing interests globally, China needs to raise its military budget annually; and the growth rate should be greater than that of the West or the gaps will widen.

It has been predicted that China's GDP could reach $21 trillion in 2019, surpassing the $20 trillion of US. If their military budget percentages remain at current level, China's military budget would still be less than half that of US. There is really no need to worry about China having military superiority.

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