The Guardian • Issue #2092

China’s defence budget and the lies of imperialism

People performs Tai Chi at the People’s Square of Urumqi, Tianshan District.

People performs Tai Chi at the People’s Square of Urumqi, Tianshan District. Photo: Asian Development Bank (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed)

China will increase its defence spending by 7.2 per cent in the coming year. Predictably, ‘warnings’ came from the West. The cry is that the outlay is greater than the 5 per cent rise in China’s GDP. This was offered as yet another ‘proof’ of China’s expansionist and war-like posture. Yes, China is spending more on defence, but its need for a strong defensive capability is real. It threatens no-one but is threatened by the most powerful military force the world has ever seen.

Any Western ‘outrage’ about the rise in defence spending is a confection. Spending has risen each year but China never tries to compete with America’s insane military spending. For the last 10 years, the Chinese economy has risen by an average of 7.9 per cent. Its defence spending has increased by a similar amount.

The United States consistently outspends China’s military budget by a ratio of 4:1. This year US GDP will grow by about 1.5 per cent and yet its military budget will rise by more than 5 per cent.

A ludicrous claim is repeated that China has had the biggest military buildup of any country since 1945. It became something of a mantra for Defence Minister Richard Marles after the publication of the 2023 Defence Strategic Review: “China’s military build-up is now the largest and most ambitious of any country since the end of the Second World War.” The problem is that it is untrue. The Cold War US-led arms race puts anything China is doing in the shade.

It is not just the USA and its militarisation that is directly threatening China. Japan’s contributions in the past couple of years have been spectacular, especially considering its alleged ‘peace constitution,’ and its ‘no war’ clause is still intact. While every year is a record year for American military spending, this year has seen Japan’s spending rise by 16 per cent!

Japan has recently accelerated the deployment of long-range cruise missiles that can hit targets in China or North Korea. Japan is also manufacturing US Patriot missiles under license from America, as well as arranging with Australia to test long range missiles here.

Australia, for its part, is another country whose military spending continually grows and exceeds its meagre GDP growth.

The militarisation of the region begins with the USA. There is a ceaseless attempt to contain China’s growth, reduce its influence, and halt its march to socialism. This has been the central plank of American foreign policy in the region since President Obama first announced his ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy in 2012. The plan was to limit China’s economic growth and to pose a direct threat through a massive deployment of naval and air power to the region.

What has been happening since that time has been a serious arms build-up. Dangerous alliances have been strengthened and new ones formed. We have seen economically unsustainable expenditures projected for AUKUS and there have been serious discussions about shifting NATO into the Asia-Pacific region.

In the face of these provocations, China has been compelled to prepare for a genuine defence of territory and sovereign rights. The fact that it has been forced to do so has been misrepresented, deliberately, to ‘prove’ that the West must deal with an aggressive and expansionist China.

The tragedy is that the propaganda machine is so well oiled. The Lowy Institute conduct annual surveys of public opinion about how Australians regard China. Immediately after Obama launched his anti-China crusade, the percentage of the population that considered China might become a threat remained in the minority. Just ten years later, after a decade of manipulation by government and the media, that figure had risen to 75 per cent.

China’s defence spending is just that; spending on defence. The same just can’t be said of the USA or of any of the belligerent countries that claim to be seeking a safe South China Sea, or to be upholding a ‘rules-based-order,’ or to be bastions of freedom.

The US president has just authorised a record $886 billion for the coming year’s military spending. In a recent interview Zhang Junshe, a Chinese military analyst, cited a fact that deserves to be repeated. The United States commits 3.5 per cent of its total GDP to the military and urges NATO allies to reach a 2 per cent target. Australia has been happy to spend and to keep spending to reach that same 2 per cent level. China’s defence budget remains a little over 1.5 per cent of GDP. It keeps the figure down, not because it can’t afford to spend the money, but because its perspective is based on actual defence rather than seeking to threaten or dominate other nations.

Zhang observed that “China will not participate in an arms race with any country, and China takes a path of peaceful development.” This is an obvious truth but a truth that is deliberately and dangerously kept from people. China can certainly defend itself and it must be able to do so. This costs money. The expenditure of that money is regrettable. It could be better spent, but when faced with an aggressive superpower, hell-bent on destruction, there is no other option.

China is encircled by US bases and missile sites. The majority of the US navy and air force are close to the Chinese border. The US government spends four times as much on its military than does China. This is portrayed as maintaining free and fair trade and interstate relations, based on the principles of the ‘rules-based-order’ that has been imposed on the world by the USA since the end of WW2.

The foreign policy of imperialism is a little different to that described by Lou Qinjian, speaking at the recent National People’s Congress in Beijing. He encapsulated China’s foreign policy, saying that “China … stands ready to share development opportunities with other countries and foster a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness and justice, and win-win cooperation, build a community with a shared future for mankind, and make new contributions to the noble cause of peace and development.”

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