03/09/2023, 14.22
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Growth in Chinese military spending: An arms race is on in the Indo-Pacific

Beijing's defence budget reached USD 225 billion. Taiwan responds with a 13.9% year-on-year increase. Japan will double its outlay in five years. Vietnam and Indonesia are not standing idly by. India a danger for China. Australia close to buying nuclear submarines from Washington.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - An arms race is underway in the Indo-Pacific. The growing geopolitical clash between China and the United States, coupled with the example of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, are pushing governments in the macro-region to increase military spending, in what has become a vicious circle.  

At the opening of the annual session of the National People's Congress on 5 March, China's outgoing Premier Li Keqiang announced that his country's military spending will grow by 7.2% this year, to around USD 225 billion: a slight increase over last year (+7.1%). This is almost four times less than the US, even though experts have long maintained that the real budget of the Chinese Armed Forces is higher than the official one.

Beijing justifies the growth in military outlays with the need to respond to external attempts to 'stifle and contain' China: a subtle attack on Washington, which is busy pushing back China's rise. Li spoke of the growing threats to national security, especially with regard to Taiwan, which the communist government considers an 'insurgent province.'

For its own defence, Taipei has allocated more than USD 13 billion for the 2023 military budget: a 13.9 per cent increase over last year. A significant portion is earmarked for arms purchases from the US, which is committed by treaty to supporting the island's defence. In September, the Biden administration approved the sale of a .1 billion arms package; Washington green-lighted another 9 million tranche in early March.

China faces other burning situations on its borders, such as the diatribe with Japan over sovereign rights in the East China Sea - for the US, Tokyo is also an asset for the protection of Taiwan.

The Japanese will equip themselves with the ability to counterattack enemy bases in an emergency through a significant increase in the defence budget. The Kishida executive's plan is to double military spending to two per cent of GDP in five years, totalling 5 billion. Of this, USD 5 trillion will be used to purchase from the US missiles capable of being launched from a safe distance and Tomahawk cruise rockets.

Nor are Vietnam and Indonesia, with whom China has territorial disputes in the South China Sea, standing idly by. Hanoi will spend .3 billion on its military build-up in 2023, with a projection to increase to billion in the coming years. In contrast, Jakarta's defence budget will reach USD 13.6 billion this year, up 3.2 billion from 2022.

These numbers are a far cry from those fielded by Beijing, but they signal a trend that only the Philippines seems to be shying away from for the time being, despite the fact that Manila also opposes Beijing's claims to the South China Sea.

In terms of numbers, and 'size', the biggest concern for China should be India, with which it has decades-long border disputes along the Himalayan arc. For the fiscal year 2023-2024, the Modi government has proposed a 13% year-on-year increase in military spending to USD 72.6 billion.

Delhi is part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a strategic dialogue forum considered by Xi Jinping to be the embryo of an 'Asian Nato', which also includes the US, Japan and Australia. As Reuters reports, Canberra is in the process of purchasing five Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines from the US. The purchase is part of the Aukus Agreement, the military pact between the US, Australia and the UK in an anti-Chinese context.


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