China recently announced draft defence budget for the year 2023 during annual session of the National People’s Congress or NPC. It was held in the first week of March. In China’s case NPC is supposedly the highest constitutional body with administrative, executive and also law enacting powers.
This year China’s defence budget is slated to cross 1.55 trillion yuan or $224 billion. It will see an increase of 7.2% from the previous allocation. In pure value terms China continues to be world’s second largest defence spender after US. Problem with China’s figures is it’s complete lack of transparency. Unlike a general norm, China doesn’t want to tell it’s spending patterns. How much it plans to spend on procurements of weapon systems, on defence infrastructure or on revenue commitments.
This ambiguity is noted as purposeful by international observers. As all things Chinese have questionable creditability, their figures too suffer the same. In 2021 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimates suggested Chinese Defence budget to be $285 billion. While Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) pegged it at $293.4 billion. Whereas, Chinese official figures were $209.2 billion only in their annual report, a variation of almost 27%.
In a 2002 US DoD report Chinese defence spending was stated as almost four times the official figures. Data available from 2013 onwards shows pattern of deliberate undervaluation by atleast one third.
So where does China intend such huge money to be used for? China has taken immense pain to justify it is not in any horizontal arms race. A March editorial by The Peoples’ Daily clarified the defence outlay. It stated the budget being used for military modernisation, optimized COVID-19 policies and defence diplomacy. It roughly translates into China’s contributions to UN Peacekeeping, multilateral military exercises and grants to client states like Pakistan.
However, Chinese claims doesn’t stand the scrutiny as it’s Ministry of National Defence lists just one bilateral and one multilateral military exercise undertaken by it’s forces last year. Fact is it’s expenditures accounted under multilateral military exercises are it’s own unilateral military operation underway in South & East China Sea. Money being funnelled in bullying neighbours over contested boundaries, spending millions on live firing – the one seen during Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, to counter US presence in their backyard and bribe their way to buy military alliances from corrupt regimes of the likes of Solomon Islands and Honduras, whose leaders overnight find China giving a better deal. None of it really leaves one convinced about how China attributes it’s military commitments.
China can surely choose to burn dollars, but it’s kiddish attempt to cover it up only reflects how the whims of Xi continue to drain China of billions.
Surely there’s much more than what China would want everyone to believe. The draft defence budget was not so much of a talking point as much the manner in which all of this was built up. It was a precursor to much grander scheme of events. The announcement was swiftly followed with media briefings by President Xi’s trusted aids, targeted more for local consumption.
The explanation to proposed defence budget offered by outgoing Premier Li Keqiang, Wang Chao spokesperson for the 14th NPC and Wu Qian spokesperson of PLA, all of them were narrating exactly the same story.
Unsurprisingly there wasn’t any contrarian view point from China as President Xi’s reincarnation was just a few days away. They very well knew defence budget was bound to draw global attention. It was designed to showcase China as a powerful, progressive and highly respectable country under Xi.
The carefully curated spin was to showcase Xi as an indispensable man for China now and forever. The Chinese media collectively gave a euphoric twist to all the developments. It was ecstatically highlighted how Xi brings experience, continuity and success when there are major global security challenges.
What can’t be missed is their painful attempt to brush over each of Xi’s black spots. What President Xi has given China is huge arrogance, Covid catastrophe, economic calamity and artificial conflicts. If all these are in their Peoples interest then Chinese must have moved to some another planet! Because if that’s not true, then it only refers to crass lies where the ruler for sure can do No wrong.
Facts & Intents
President Xi’s unprecedented continuation has been trumpeted as if, China would get guaranteed global domination and a certain Taiwan. Only confirming to CCP’s agenda for ensuring announcement of Xi’s continuation must be backed up with a rosy spectre. Further showcasing how China is with him happily backing and celebrating the moment!
Though Chinese people would know better how much they could have altered their fate. As far rest of the world is concerned, they weren’t even bothered of this charade and just No one was really losing sleep over decisions being announced in the Great Hall of People.
What matters in global account are facts & intents and on both these counts World has gone extremely disillusioned with China, almost on verge of losing patience. It’s like an unruly child growing into wayward adulthood.
China’s can’t care less approach and it’s desire of getting nothing less than everything will soon see it treated like a pariah without a grudge. CCP believes it can gloss over Xi’s disastrous handling of affairs and it only needs to manage the narrative; it is indeed failing on both together.
Considering past as the precedence President Xi’s third term would continue with confrontation, suppression and coercive diplomacy. Unfortunately for CCP mandarins global leadership has also gone through this learning curve.
People who matters are increasingly transparent and rather forthright with their response and likely future course they are prepared to take. CCP can surely opt for confrontation, what they cannot control is the options others would choose for themselves. This China can take as their national learning – They are well within their rights to feel smart, but they would go wrong the moment they take their adversary as dumb!
India has responded with a four pronged strategy – it continues to push on infrastructure build-up, multilateral security arrangements, capability augmentation and indigenisation of critical technologies. In a recent brainstorming on 14th March headed by nations security architects the buzz word was Whole of Nations’ Approach.
India looks set to accept current deployments along China as new normal. It would most likely continue to keep it’s eyes wide open on China and will not shy away from swift responses. India has amply highlighted responsibility of good relations is always mutual.
President Xi gets full credit for taking his country downhill from an imposing identity to a questionable character in his previous two terms and if the pattern continue, as is largely expected, he will lead China into further chaos and isolation!