By Fu Liqun, researcher with the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences
China's military budget has maintained a two-digit increase over the last 10 or more years .
Military analysts and think tanks in some countries are using this to cook up the theory of a military threat from China, claiming that the military expenditure growth goes beyond China's actual defense needs.
We have time and again reiterated that China is iron-clad in its determination to take the road of peaceful development and its military strategy is oriented to defense.
The growth in its defense budget can be attributed to a number of factors.
First, the defense budget growth is aimed at paying off the old bill.
Economics, not class struggle, topped the agenda of the whole country when reform and opening-up were launched in the late 1970s. This meant that economic, industrial and educational sectors claimed priority in getting government money. The military had to take the back bench.
As a result, military spending has seen negative growth over the years. Although the actual amount remained unchanged, inflation eroded the expenditure. The sharpest yearly decline registered as much as five percentage points.
As a result, military hardware and equipment of the People's Liberation Army became outdated, defense facilities were in disrepair and military professionals drained away.
Starting from the mid-1990s, the country began to increase its defense budget, largely to pay off the outstanding debt so that the Chinese military forces could remain vital.
So, when we calculate the increase in the defense budget over the last 10 years or so, we should also take into account the negative military spending growth in the preceding decade.
Second, China has to expand its spending on sophisticated military technology so that it will not be left hopelessly behind other countries.
In recent years, waves of military technology upgrades rippled across the world. The updating is marked by universal application of computer networks, artificial intelligence and development of space weapons. In contrast, the Chinese military forces are still at the phase of mechanization and semi-mechanization. In overall terms, the Chinese military trails its counterparts in advanced nations by 15 to 20 years.
Confronted by this stark reality, the Chinese military needs to shorten the distance between it and its world peers.
Military information technology is expensive. It is an especially herculean task for the Chinese military to be engaged in information-technology-oriented undertakings while making up the missed lessons in military mechanization.
All this dictates that China's defense budget increase by a significant margin in a certain period of time.
Third, the Chinese military forces are obligated with enormous responsibilities in defending the country's thousands upon thousands of kilometers of boundaries and coastlines. New needs for the Chinese military forces have emerged in recent years: To get more extensively involved in the United Nations' peace-keeping missions and to fight terrorism; to combat piracy in international waters, drug trafficking and cross-border crimes; to safeguard the security of sea lanes through which vitally important resources such as oil are shipped to China. All this demands more financial resources.
Fourth, China pays more dearly than other countries in acquiring state-of-the-art military technology.
For many countries, military modernization means, importing sophisticated hardware and equipment. China is no exception.
While Japan, Britain, Israel and Australia, all allies of the United States, can buy the most advanced weapons directly from the United States and share the latest military purpose software, China has to develop all this on its own.
Even India enjoys much easier access to advanced Western military hardware, thanks to a host of international political factors.
Why the discrimination? This is because the United States and other Western countries, which are constantly on guard against China's rise, impose strict restrictions on arms sales to China.
Research and development of advanced weapons from scratch means that China, an economically backward country, has to sustain a higher cost than developed countries.
Even though China can buy some advanced technology, it has to pay much more than others.
Fifth, the Chinese armed forces have the responsibility of maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integration of the country.
The Taiwan authorities are aggressively pushing for Taiwan independence in an attempt to split the island province from the motherland.
Just as any country in the world would not tolerate its dismemberment, the Chinese government will never allow Taiwan-independence elements to have their way.
While showing the utmost sincerity and trying its best to develop cross-Straits relations in the direction of peace and stability, the central government has to prepare for any possible emergencies, with thwarting a Taiwan independence attempt with force as the last resort.
Apart from these major factors that contribute to the increase in China's military spending, there is another contributing factor the increase in mineral resource prices.
Despite the increase in the country's defense budget for 10 straight years, China's military spending is still comparatively low, in both absolute numbers and in per capita spending.
(China Daily March 28, 2007)