China is expected to reveal a robust increase in defence spending at the March 5 annual opening of parliament, as its economy rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic and military tensions rise, Chinese and Western security experts said, Reuters reported.
With the coronavirus hammering its economy, China last year announced a 6.6 per cent boost in defence spending to $178 billion, the lowest rate of increase in three decades.
The new administration of President Joe Biden has moved quickly to remind Beijing that the United States intends to compete with China’s growing influence and military strength in the Asia-Pacific. In recent weeks, powerful U.S. warship fleets have sailed near Chinese-claimed Taiwan and through disputed territory in the South China Sea, to Beijing’s anger.
“China is facing the most severe security situation since the Korean War,” said Ni Lexiong, a retired professor at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.
He predicts a substantial hike in China’s military budget, citing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, regular deployments of U.S. aircraft carriers off the China coast and the recent presence of a French warship and nuclear submarine in the South China Sea.
“Looking at public opinion, it has become more urgent to take back Taiwan militarily. That is why the budget will surely rise sharply,” he said.
Ross Babbage, a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and former Australian defence official, expects a rise of about 7%.
“That is less than some people might expect and the reason for that is the Chinese economy is still not in great shape.”
China’s economy grew just 2.3% in 2020, although it was the only major economy not to contract, and is expected to see growth of 8.4% percent this year, a Reuters poll found.