HOW NOT TO MISREAD IT

China’s defense spending will mainly be used to upgrade
benefits for servicemen and to modernize capabilities


By NI YANSHUO

MARK THIS: China pursues a defensive national defense policy, says Premier
Wen Jiabao

China’s release of its national defense budget for 2005 this month caught the world’s eyes. According to a budget report submitted to the Third Session of the 10th National People’s Congress (NPC), top legislative body of the People’s Republic, China’s expenditures on national defense will increase by 12.6 percent this year to reach 244.66 billion yuan ($29.55 billion).

“This is still a fairly small amount compared with the military spending of other major countries in the world, in terms of its proportion to China’s total financial expenditures and gross domestic product (GDP),” said Jiang Enzhu, Spokesman of the NPC Session.

Detailing the budgetary allocations, Jiang said the money would be used to raise salaries and provide guaranteed social security for servicemen, for the placement of officers and soldiers discharged in China’s latest move to cut its troops by 200,000 and for the military’s armament upgrading to promote the modernization of China’s defense capabilities.

In the wake of its announcement, China’s defense budget, along with the country’s defense construction, immediately became a hot media topic.

“China adopts a defensive national defense policy… I want to clarify a fact that over the past hundred years, China has always been bullied by others. China has never sent a single soldier to occupy even an inch of foreign land,” Premier Wen Jiabao told a press conference on March 14.

In echo of Premier Wen, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing also dismissed rumors of a “China threat’’ as groundless. When asked if the increasing defense budget would worry its neighbors, Li pointed out that China’s diplomatic stress was on maintaining world peace. He compared China’s defense expenditures with that of the United States, saying the latter stood at 17.8 times that of China.

Military experts agree that China’s annual defense spending remains low when compared with other major countries. In 2003, it was only 5.69 percent that of the United States, 56.78 percent that of Japan, 37.07 percent that of Britain and 75.94 percent that of France.

The proportion of China’s defense spending to its fiscal expenditures and GDP are also very low. In 2002 and 2003, China’s GDP reached 10.52 trillion yuan ($1.27 trillion) and 11.73 trillion yuan ($1.42 trillion) respectively. Its defense expenditures in the said years were 170.78 billion yuan ($20.63 billion) and 190.79 billion yuan ($23.04 billion). In most years after 1990, the growth rate of China’s defense expenditures has always been lower than fiscal expenditures.

Other major countries worldwide have also increased their national defense budgets for 2005. According to the U.S. FY 2005 National Defense Authorization Act, Washington’s defense budget for fiscal 2005 is a record of $422 billion, $20.7 billion or 5.16 percent more than that for fiscal 2004. This figure is almost equal to the total defense budgets of the rest of the world.

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At the end of 2004, the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) approved a national defense budget of 187 billion rubles ($6.8 billion) for 2005, up 27.6 percent over 2004. The Indian Government declared its defense budget for 2005 of 830 billion rupees ($19 billion), 60 billion rupees ($1.37 billion) more than the previous year.

“China is improving its national defense construction and is taking measures to make the process transparent to the world,” said Chen Zhou, Researcher with the Chinese Academy of Military Science of the People’s Liberation Army.

According to Zhang Bangdong, Director of the Information Office of the National Defense Ministry, China began making public the allocations of its defense expenditures in 1995 when it published China: Arms Control and Disarmament white paper. The white paper on China’s National Defense in 2002 honestly represented the upward trend in the proportion of China’s defense spending in its GDP from 1995 to 2001, which also provided details of the improved living standards and increases in salaries and subsidies for servicemen to explain the growth.

“The national defense white paper issued by the Information Office of the State Council on December 27 last year again introduces China’s national defense construction to the world in a transparent and honest manner. This fully embodies China’s honesty,” said Chen.

In 1998, China issued its first white paper on national defense with key emphasis on development and cooperation. The document gave details of China’s disarmament and put forth a new concept of security featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation.

The following year witnessed the outbreak of the Kosovo war and the U.S. bombing of China’s embassy in former Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, Taiwan former leader Lee Teng-hui dished out his “two states” theory. Relations across the Taiwan Strait plummeted. Thus, the white paper on National Defense in 2000 carried a stern tone. It pointed out that factors that could cause instability and uncertainty had increased markedly. The world was far from peaceful. It condemned “Taiwan independence” forces of “scheming to split the island province from China, in one form or another.”

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In 2001, the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States put anti-terrorist cooperation on the world radar. China’s national defense white paper in 2002 again stressed mitigation, coordination and proactive steps. For the first time, the white paper noted that the fundamental basis for the formulation of China’s national defense policy was national interest.

Against the current backdrop of intensified pro-independence movement in Taiwan, the National Defense White Paper issued last December again adopted a tough tone. “The situation in the relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is grim. The Taiwan authorities under Chen Shui-bian have recklessly challenged the status quo that both sides of the Strait belong to one and the same China, and markedly escalated the ‘Taiwan independence’ activities designed to split China,” it warned.

“Viewing from the four national defense white papers, we can see that the new security concept and China’s defensive national defense policy remain unchanged. However, China’s manner in making its national defense construction transparent has become increasingly frank and direct, and the depth and breadth of information availability is constantly growing” said Chen.