As Xi Jinping pursues military buildup, China hikes defense budget by 7.2%

Connie Queline

As Xi Jinping pursues military buildup, China hikes defense budget by 7.2%

China’s defense spending will grow by 7.2% this year, the most in five years, an increase that comes amid signs corruption is undermining a military revamp.
Military expenditure by the central government is expected to rise to 1.67 trillion yuan ($231 billion) in 2024, according to an annual Finance Ministry report seen by Bloomberg News on Tuesday as the National People’s Congress started in Beijing.
In comparison, US President Joe Biden signed an annual $886 billion defense bill late last year, one that advanced a trilateral security deal with Australia and the UK largely intended to counter China.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has set a 2027 deadline for his nation’s military to become a “world-class force” — one his diplomats say is focused on defense — yet doubts are mounting over whether graft is hindering that ambition.
The People’s Liberation Army Daily said this year it would continue fighting the “difficult and protracted war on graft,” a pledge that came after the defense sector was shaken by a series of abrupt personnel changes.
The defense minister of the world’s largest armed forces by number of troops and two Rocket Force generals were replaced without explanation. Top political bodies have also kicked out several other senior military figures. The Rocket Force manages China’s nuclear weapons, an arsenal that the US has warned is expanding.
Spending on the PLA has risen by at least 6.6% each year for the past three decades, although analysts say Beijing’s actual figure far exceeds its official sum, partly because R&D expenditures are not included. China’s provinces also make a small contribution to defense spending.
China now has the world’s biggest navy by number of ships and is adding to its fleet of aircraft carriers. China, the US and Russia are the only nations producing fifth-generation fighter jets. Last week, the US said China is boosting its military capabilities in space at a “breathtaking pace.”
Yet despite Xi’s decade-plus campaign against corruption across government, there are signs that the problem is still rife in the armed forces. Bloomberg News reported this year that US intelligence indicated the sweeping military purge came after widespread graft was found to have hampered Xi’s modernization drive.
The corruption inside the Rocket Force and throughout the nation’s defense industrial base was so extensive that US officials believed Xi is less likely to contemplate major military action in the coming years than would otherwise have been the case, according to people familiar with the assessments who asked not to be named discussing intelligence.
China’s stepped up financial support for its armed forces comes amid lingering military tensions with the US, especially over Taiwan, though the situation has eased since Xi and Biden met in the US in November last year. Beijing held major exercises around the democratically run island of 23 million people twice since August 2022 because its leader, President Tsai Ing-wen, met top US lawmakers.
The US and its allies also sometimes engage in tense encounters with PLA planes and ships in the South China Sea, the body of water Beijing largely claims as its own. Underscoring that friction, in autumn last year the US and China each released video footage that accused the other of provocative or unprofessional actions by military craft in and around the sea.
Last week, China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said the coming increase in the defense budget was warranted, pointing to tensions in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
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