The Middle Kingdom, which, has for long been nourishing the vision of steadily modernizing and upgrading its defence forces to emerge as a numero uno global military power of 21st century, could however, manage to increase its defence spending for 2016 by just 7.6% .Considered the least increase in the last six years, China’s total declared spending of US$146-billion on defence for the current year reflects the decelerating state of its economy.. Though China’s defence budget for 2016 is estimated to be around a quarter of US Defence Department’s budget, it is four times more than India’s defence budget. With a view to expand and speed up its connectivity with the Himalayan region bordering on India, China has announced a second rail link to Tibet. This would boost China’s strategic options in so far as rapidly moving its troops to the borders with India is concerned.
China considers itself as arising power while looking at US as an established power. But then defence experts familiar with the Chinese military spending believe that China’s actual military spending is much higher than what the official documents reveal.
In particular, the escalating tension in the disputed South China region, where US has beefed up its naval presence as well the need to equip its defence forces with the state of the art fighting equipment and advanced technological tools could nudge China to use its defence budget in an efficient and controlled manner by minimizing wasteful expenditure and leakages. China considers itself as arising power while looking at US as an established power. But then defence experts familiar with the Chinese military spending believe that China’s actual military spending is much higher than what the official documents reveal. China’s defence spending is now believed to be second only to that of USA. And in terms of technology, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is fast narrowing its capability gap with the US defence forces. The Chinese budget outlay for defence however did not cover long term military modernisation and dual use research. In this context an analyst with a Shanghai based hedge fund says, “The growth in military spending looks slower but there is also a room to divert some of the defence spending under other fiscal heads”.
The country will strive to “strengthen military in all respects so that it is more revolutionary, modern and standardised” said the Chinese budget document. And addressing the Parliament, Chinese Premier Li Kequiang observed, “We will strengthen in a coordinated manner military preparedness on all fronts and all scenarios and work meticulously to ensure combat readiness and border and air defence control.” Chinese political leadership is looking at giving a totally new edge to its military power that is capable of taking care of Chinese interest in any part of the world speedily and efficiently.
The drastic military reform and restructuring announced in September last, that has been described as the biggest military overhaul since 1950s, would see nearly 3,00,000 personnel of People’s Liberation Army(PLA) shedding their uniform by the end of next year. Even with this pruning, PLA would remain world’s largest military force. This strategy is aimed at creating a leaner and smarter fighting machine equipped to face the battlefield scenario of the future. Specifically, China is keen on facing the challenge of rapidly expanding US naval presence in the South China Sea, a strategic global waterway. With the US Navy’s Pacific Command asserting its commitment to sustaining the “freedom of navigation in South China Sea”, China is stressing on the modernization of is naval forces.
With the contours of warfare changing radically, China is working on a strategy to build a tech savy force.
As part of the plan to consolidate its position in the South China Sea, China has been busy deploying an array of defensive weapons in some of the islands under its control. Satellite imageries made available by the privately owned Imagasat International, reveal that China has deployed eight missile launchers and a radar system at the Chinese controlled Woody Island. China has claimed a sovereignty over the resources of South China Sea which is rich in hydrocarbons. However Chinese claim has been contested by Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.
Chinese military reform will also focus on strengthening the capability of PLA in the areas of space war and cyber war. At the end of the day, China seeks to transform 2.3 million strong PLA into a robust fighting machine that would focus more on an intelligent and automated war where satellites, information and communications systems, drones and unmanned aircraft will play a vastly enhanced role. “A lot of countries do military reforms but they are rarely as tectonic as what we are seeing in China” notes Dean Chang a Senior Fellow, at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Even with a reduction in the overall strength of its defence forces, China’s military will remain the world’s largest. The overhauling of PLA will minimize the importance of army which by temperament and training is well suited for a conventional war. With the contours of warfare changing radically, China is working on a strategy to build a tech savy force. A commentary in Global Times has justified the military reform as a vitally significant exercise aimed at winning the wars of the future by overawing the adversaries. The dream of the Chinese leadership to put in place a fighting machine that is well equipped to fight the wars of 21st century.
China’s diplomatic clout and geopolitical influence stands substantially enhanced by deeper forays into the global arms market.
In step with its position as an emerging global military power, China is now busy positioning itself as a major arms exporter. It has already sold its drones to countries in West Asia and North Africa. The thriving Chinese military industrial complex is now posing a threat to the defence exporting enterprises in West Europe and North America. While India continues to be the largest importer of defence hardware, China is making waves in the global defence market place even though the volume of Chinese arms export is still quite insignificant. Affordable prices and easy terms of deal are the major attraction for many third world countries to go in for Made in China defence wares. China’s diplomatic clout and geopolitical influence stands substantially enhanced by deeper forays into the global arms market.
But then a well documented report by Congressional Research Service in Washington reveals a darker underbelly of Chinese arms export in the form of proliferation of missile technology. This study sheds light on flagrant Chinese violation of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) by transfer on sly of missile technology to Pakistan, Iran and North Korea. ”Yet because China has military products –particularly missiles—that some developing countries like to acquire, it can present an obstacle to efforts to stem proliferation of advanced missile systems to some areas of the developing world where political and military tensions are significant and where some nations are seeking to develop military capabilities of an asymmetric nature” says this report .
Meanwhile in a stunning demonstration of its growing prowess in the dual use aerospace technology, Beijing has realized what has been described a largest ever, home grown high altitude airship named Yuanmeng. This high altitude airship, which was designed and built jointly by Beijing Aerospace Technology Company and Beijing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics, has both civilian and military uses. From the defence perspective, Beijing can use this near space steerable airship for early warning, reconnaissance and surveillance as well as communications support during emergencies including wars and conflicts. For instance, under a battle field condition, when China’s satellite communications system could get disrupted, the solar power driven Yuanmeng could serve as an ideal alternative communications platform. Civilian uses of Yuanmeng could include weather forecast, crop yield estimation as well as support for disaster mitigation efforts.