China, with the world’s largest military in terms of personnel, is busy adding a host of new hardware, including aircraft carriers and stealth fighters.
In announcing the increase in the world’s second largest defense budget, outgoing premier Li Keqiang highlighted growing “external attempts to suppress and contain China”. “The military should step up military training and readiness across the board… devote more energy to training in combat conditions,” Li said as he presented the government’s annual working report to thousands of delegates in the Greater Beijing People’s Hall.
It is widely believed that Beijing spends far more money on its military than official figures. However, China’s defense spending pales in comparison to the United States, which has allocated more than $800 billion to its military this year.
Beijing and Washington have clashed over trade, human rights and other issues in recent years, but relations soured further last month when the United States shot down a Chinese balloon it said was being used for surveillance, a claim strenuously denied by Beijing.
Relations took a major blow in August last year, when Nancy Pelosi became the first sitting House Speaker in 25 years to visit Taipei.
The PLA responded to Pelosi’s visit with unprecedented military exercises that appeared to practice a blockade of Taiwan, with exercises taking place off major cities and on the east and west sides of the island that China has pledged to bring a day under his control. China has also fired missiles directly at Taiwan.
Reference to India
Li also spoke highly of the military’s achievements at the borders. “They carried out operations steadily and flexibly and effectively conducted important missions related to border defence, maritime rights protection, counter-terrorism and stability maintenance, rescue and disaster relief, COVID response -19, to the maintenance of peace and the escort of merchant ships”.
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The reference to “important border defense related missions” was seen as significant in the context of the PLA’s offensive actions in eastern Ladakh in May 2020 along the Line of Effective Control (LAC) with India, triggering a prolonged standoff which it has practically frozen relations between the two countries.
Both sides held 17 rounds of high-level military talks to resolve the stalemate and the 18th round was expected to take place soon.
From India’s perspective, China’s defense budget continued to be more than three times larger. India’s defense budget for 2023-24 is approximately $72.6 billion.
“World-Class Strength by 2027”
Spending on the People’s Liberation Army has increased by at least 6.6 percent each year over the past three decades, keeping pace with or often outpacing economic growth.
The growing military budgets are also in line with President Xi Jinping’s pledge to build a “world-class force” by 2027, a deadline that coincides with the 100th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army.
Meanwhile, senior US officials have repeatedly warned that China could encroach on the self-ruled island in the coming years, pointing to Beijing’s increasingly aggressive military moves around the Taiwan Strait, which it sees as its territory and has promised to bring under its rule. check.
However, Li took a moderate tone on Taiwan saying that China should promote the peaceful development of cross-strait relations and advance China’s “peaceful reunification” process, but also take resolute measures to oppose Taiwan’s independence.
Beijing has said its military spending is for defensive purposes only and is a relatively small percentage of its GDP and that critics want to demonize it as a threat to world peace.
China also plans to increase its public safety budget by 6.4%, the fastest pace in five years. This increase comes after the country experienced its most widespread protests in decades in November over widespread discontent over tough Covid Zero rules.
(With contributions from agencies)