China Outlines 30 Years of Defense Spending
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — China outlined its defense spending for the past 30 years Jan. 20 as part of a biennial white paper that contained several other unprecedented disclosures, perhaps in response to critics who suggest China’s military is not transparent enough.
According to the paper, military expenditure rose from 16.78 billion yuan ($2.43 billion) in 1978 to 355.49 billion yuan in 2007.
Western observers have long maintained that Beijing’s official budget statements understate actual spending.
Composed of 14 chapters and six appendixes, “China’s National Defense in 2008” is the largest of the six white papers released since 1998 by China’s Information Office of the State Council.
The report acknowledges for the first time that the number of militia members shrank to 8 million from 10 million in 2006. The paper includes new sections on each branch of the military, including the Second Artillery Corps — responsible for China’s missile and nuclear weapons arsenal — and a description of China’s border police force in unprecedented detail.
The paper described trends in military spending over the three decades.
“From 1978 to 1987, as the nation shifted its focus to economic development, national defense received a low input and was in a state of bare sustenance,” the paper said. Military spending rose an average of 3.5 percent per year, far less than the GDP growth of 14.1 percent. It dropped as a percentage of federal spending from 15 percent in 1978 to 9.3 percent in 1987.
In the following decade, “to make up for the inadequacy of defense development and maintain national security and unity, China gradually increased its defense expenditure on the basis of its sustained economic growth,” the paper said. Military spending rose an average of 14.5 percent per year, while GDP grew an annual 20.7 percent.
“From 1998 to 2007, to maintain national security and development and meet the requirements of the RMA [revolution in military affairs] with Chinese characteristics, China continued to increase its defense expenditure steadily on the basis of its rapid economic growth,” the paper said. The growth in military spending, averaging 15.9 percent annually, began to outpace that of GDP, which rose an average of 12.5 percent.
The paper vowed “unequivocal commitment to the thorough destruction of nuclear weapons,” including a halt to research and development of new types. China will “continue to honor its moratorium commitment on nuclear testing.” The paper voiced support for the “early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty,” and noted the government’s work on the International Monitoring System.
China also restated its declaration of “no first use” of nuclear weapons.
“In peacetime, the nuclear missile weapons of the Second Artillery Force are not aimed at any country,” said the paper. However, if China comes under nuclear attack, “the Second Artillery Force will use nuclear missiles to launch a resolute counterattack against the enemy.”
Lin Chong-Pin, Taiwan’s former vice minister of defense, noted the “skillful and tactful reference to Russia and the United States as ‘the two countries that possess the largest nuclear arsenals’ that ‘should shoulder the special and leading responsibilities’ on pushing for nuclear disarmament.” This paper mentioned “precision weapons” 10 times, far more than previous papers.
“Precision-guided munitions are on the rise,” the report said. The Air Force is developing “capabilities to execute long-range precision strikes and strategic projection operations,” and the Second Artillery is developing the capability of conducting “precision strikes with conventional missiles.”
Larry Wortzel, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said the paper “reaffirms the need for precision weapons, the use of space and for C4ISR modernization.” The paper met fears that Beijing could lose control of its nuclear arsenal with reassurances that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is under Communist Party control.
“The PLA insists on putting ideological and political work first, and pushing forward the innovative development of ideological and political work, to ensure the Party’s absolute leadership over the armed forces,” the paper said.
Observers said this year’s edition is a welcome change from earlier efforts, but there is also some disappointment on the issues of transparency and full disclosure.
“While hefty in weight, these sections actually provide little new information and lack many specific details,” said Dennis Blasko, a former U.S. Army attaché based in Beijing. In particular, these sections lack detail in many issues of interest, “such as a definitive statement about the 2007 ASAT [Anti-Satellite] test, aircraft carrier developments, and the status of specific cruise and ballistic missiles.
“The white paper provides no information about the size of the individual services or their budgets, nor does it shed light on the most basic information about the numbers of officers, NCOs and conscripts in the PLA,” said Blasko, author of “The Chinese Army Today.”
Lin said this edition is “used as a diplomatic instrument more prominently than its predecessor.” He noted there is technically more transparency in form, with separate chapters on the four military branches, yet the paper lacks “substance” in the form of new information.
He said the paper also attempts to dilute the “China threat” and emphasize “missions beyond combat,” as well as China’s “peace-loving posture” in the form of arms control and disarmament.
One other item of interest that appears different is China’s relationship with Taiwan. The selfgoverning island is mentioned in three paragraphs in the report, and the language is largely upbeat or at least nonthreatening.
“The attempts of the separatist forces for ‘Taiwan independence’ to seek ‘de jure Taiwan independence’ have been thwarted, and the situation across the Taiwan Straits has taken a significantly positive turn,” the paper said.
“The two sides have resumed and made progress in consultations on the common political basis of the ‘1992 Consensus,’ and consequently cross-Straits relations have improved.” The report complained of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, but there was little evidence of the threat of force.
“On Taiwan, the white paper is less bellicose, but still firm,” Wortzel said.