China Announces ‘Transparent and Moderate’ Defence Budget

Chinese President Xi Jinping has again reiterated his latest moniker ‘New Productive Forces’ at the just concluded session of the National Peoples Congress. He stressed on the need to be guided by this thought in high tech sectors such as new energy vehicles, artificial intelligence, renewable energy, advanced manufacturing and increasing China’s military might

By Asad Mirza

Foreign Affairs

The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, China’s top political advisory body, concluded its annual session on Sunday, March 10 calling on political advisors to contribute to great unity and solidarity and pool strength for advancing Chinese modernisation.

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The meeting was presided over by Wang Huning, chairman of the CPPCC National Committee. Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Qiang, and senior leaders including Zhao Leji, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, Li Xi and Han Zheng attended the closing meeting of the second session of the 14th CPPCC National Committee at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, which gathered more than 2,000 political advisors.

2024 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the CPPCC’s establishment. Wang said that over the past 75 years, the CPPCC, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), has traversed a glorious course in its efforts toward founding and developing the People’s Republic of China, exploring the path of reform, and realising the Chinese Dream.

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Wang emphasised the need for the CPPCC to enhance its capacity for political consultation, democratic oversight, and participation in and deliberation of state affairs. Calling for dedication, responsibility and commitment in the journey toward Chinese modernisation, he urged political advisors to strive in unity to build a modern socialist country in all respects and advance the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts.

The primary task in 2024 is to promote the construction of a modern industrial system and accelerate the development of ‘new productive forces’: President Xi Jinping

The primary task in 2024 is to promote the construction of a modern industrial system and accelerate the development of ‘new productive forces’, he said. ‘New productive forces’ is a term coined by President Xi Jinping last year to refer to high tech sectors such as new energy vehicles, artificial intelligence, renewable energy and advanced manufacturing.

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The inclusion of the term indicates Xi’s desire to promote the high-tech and green industries of the future and push the country ahead in the global race for critical technologies, including defence.

China’s Defence Budget

China’s national budget for 2024 includes defence spending of nearly 1.69 trillion yuan, or US $ 235 billion, a 7.2 percent year-on-year increase. Wu Qian, the spokesperson for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army at the 14th National People’s Congress said Beijing has always promoted world peace.

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A Chinese military expert told Global Times that many countries have hiked their military expenditures in recent years, including the US and Japan. According to a Reuters report, US President Joe Biden in December 2023 reportedly authorised a record $886 billion annual military spending for fiscal 2024, nearly four times China’s figure. On the other hand, Japan approved a 16% rise in military spending and has eased its post-war ban on lethal weapons exports.

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China’s national budget for 2024 includes defence spending of nearly 1.69 trillion yuan, or US $ 235 billion, a 7.2 percent year-on-year increase

Focussing on the increased defence expenditure, Wu Qian said this would be primarily allocated to the following areas;

First, it will be used to advance the implementation of the 14th Five-Year Plan for military development, ensure the implementation of major projects and key programmes, comprehensively strengthen military training and combat preparedness, and consolidate and enhance the integrated national strategic system and capability.

Second, it will be used to accelerate innovation and the development of defence-related science and technology, promote modernised logistics, implement major projects in defence-related science and technology sector and weaponry, and accelerate the transformation of technology into combat effectiveness.

Third, it will be used to deepen defence and military reforms, establish a modern military governance system, and improve modern military governance capabilities.

Fourth, it will be used to improve the training and war preparedness conditions of the troops and the working and living conditions for service members, while improving the welfare policy system that reflects the characteristics of military professionalism.

Political Interpretation

Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the armed forces to coordinate preparations for military conflicts at sea, protect the country’s maritime rights and interests and the development of the maritime economy.

The budget will be used to accelerate innovation and the development of defence-related science and technology, promote modernised logistics, implement major projects, and accelerate the transformation of technology into combat effectiveness

Xi, further said that strategic capabilities in emerging spheres – new frontiers originating from innovation and applications of science and technology – are closely related to the country’s socioeconomic development, national security and military power, and are of great significance to modernisation efforts and national rejuvenation.

The president stressed that the military must prioritise key projects and fully implement related plans. He called for the integrated planning of naval operations, maritime rights protection and the marine economy in order to boost the nation’s sea power.

He also called for the improvement of the nation’s space capabilities and the formation of a cyberspace defence system, which can help to safeguard the country’s internet security. Research of intelligent technologies will be given more attention, and such technologies will be further promoted, according to Xi.

Emerging scenario

Analysts see this new thrust on defence modernisation as opening the field to private entrepreneurs. Professor Ann Lee from New York University told BBC that the session outcomes could see legislation providing more support to the private sector.

Analysts also agree that Beijing’s total military expenditure far outstrips its official defence budget, which does not include military research and development, including procurement, paramilitary forces and the coastguard.

In this scenario it becomes imperative for the Indian defence strategists and policy makers to give a new thrust and direction to country’s defence budget

Nan Tian, a researcher who tracks Chinese military spending at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said that Sipri’s estimates suggest that total military spending is about 30-35 per cent higher than the official budget.

Further, despite concerns over the transparency of the official figures, the sustained growth in China’s military spending demonstrates its unwavering commitment to the PLA’s modernisation to become a ‘world-class’ military by the mid-21st century.

The increased Chinese budget should be an eye opener for the defence mandarins of India. We have to contrast the Chinese commitment and budget outlay with India’s defence budget for fiscal 2024-25, which is ₹621,541 crore or US $78 billion, i.e. two hundred per cent less than the Chinese defence budget.

In this scenario it becomes imperative for the Indian defence strategists and policy makers to give a new thrust and direction to country’s defence budget. By embracing new technologies at a much faster pace and lesser cost, with a major contribution coming from the private sector, this could be achieved. Otherwise, we may not be able to match the Chinese might on land, in air or on sea.

–The writer is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He can be contacted on www.asadmirza.in. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda