China continues to increase its military budget

The Chinese Ministry of Finance confirmed, on Tuesday March 5, during the annual session of Parliament, a military budget increasing by 7

China continues to increase its military budget

The Chinese Ministry of Finance confirmed, on Tuesday March 5, during the annual session of Parliament, a military budget increasing by 7.2% for 2024, an identical rate of increase to the previous year. Beijing plans to devote 1,665.5 billion yuan – or approximately 214 billion euros – to it, which remains more than three times lower than the United States' expenditure in this area.

The Asian giant maintains a “reasonable growth” of its military budget to “safeguard its sovereignty, its security and its development interests”, explained Lou Qinjian, the spokesperson for the parliamentary session, on Monday.

This budget has been increasing for several decades, generally in step with economic growth. China announced on Tuesday that it was aiming for an increase in its gross domestic product (GDP) of around 5% in 2024, one of its most modest targets in decades but which undoubtedly remains difficult to achieve because the second largest economy world has been struggling to relaunch itself since the Covid-19 years.

The country spends 1.6% of its GDP on its military, far less than the United States (3.5%) or Russia (4.1%), according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

Skirmishes

China's military rise is, however, viewed with suspicion by the United States, Japan and the Philippines – a country with which China is competing for control of islets in the South China Sea. The Philippine Coast Guard also declared that one of its vessels was damaged on Tuesday in a collision with a Chinese Coast Guard boat during a resupply mission. The Chinese coast guard claimed to have taken “control measures” after what they described as an “intrusion” by Philippine vessels near a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

China’s military growth is also raising fears in Taiwan, an island of 23 million people that China hopes to “reunify” with its territory. Beijing reiterated on Tuesday its opposition to any independence for Taiwan, supported militarily by the United States.

“We vigorously oppose separatist activities aimed at the independence of Taiwan and external interference,” says a government activity report consulted by Agence France-Presse (AFP), and published almost two months after the he election in Taiwan of President Lai Ching-te who considers the island to be de facto independent.

Skirmishes also sometimes break out between China and India along their disputed border in the Himalayas.

Nuclear warheads

For its part, Beijing says it is worried about the military alliances established by its regional rivals with the United States or even NATO, which now presents it as a “challenge” to the “interests” of its members.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said again in January that China is “coming closer to us” because “we see it in Africa, we see it in the Arctic, we see it trying to control critical infrastructure ".

In this context, China notably carried out in 2023 “a substantial increase in the number of its nuclear warheads,” James Char, an expert on the Chinese army at Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), told AFP. According to Sipri, Beijing had 410 nuclear warheads in 2023 (60 in one year), far behind Washington (3,708) and Moscow (4,489). “Recent corruption scandals in the army nevertheless raise doubts about the effectiveness of its missile force and the professionalism of the military forces,” Adam Ni, editor-in-chief of China Neican, told AFP in a letter d information on Chinese news.

Suspicions of corruption in the army

China changed defense ministers twice last year. Retired since March 2023, former minister Wei Fenghe no longer appears in public, like his successor Li Shangfu, dismissed in October without explanation after a few months.

Other senior military figures, notably in the nuclear missile branch of the army, have been fired. Questioned about these turmoil in August, the Ministry of Defense did not formally confirm that it was corruption but pledged to “crack down on any corrupt official.”

Corruption “must be addressed” if the military is to “hope to achieve [President] Xi Jinping’s goal of supplanting the U.S. armed forces as the world’s leading military power,” Char notes.

But Washington remains far ahead for the moment. According to Sipri, the United States is the country with the highest military spending, with 877 billion dollars (approximately 808 billion euros) in 2022, according to the latest available figures. This is followed by China, Russia ($86.4 billion), India (81.4), Saudi Arabia (75), UK (68.5), Germany (55.8) and France (53.6).

In addition, the United States has “a global presence and networks of alliances, which China cannot have in the short term,” underlines Adam Ni. Washington has hundreds of military bases abroad, Beijing only one, in Djibouti.

“Given the shortcomings of the Chinese army (…) it seems logical that Beijing has neither the means nor the desire to engage in a conflict against Washington or launch an invasion (…) of Taiwan,” notes James Char. “What remains worrying, however, is friction [with] other armies in the region, which has the potential to escalate into open conflict. »