China announced it will increase its military budget by nearly $230 billion this year amid fears it will launch an invasion of Taiwan.
The money is intended to “increase battle preparedness and enhance military capabilities,” Premier Li Keqiang claimed ahead of a draft budget presented to the National People’s Congress in Beijing.
It means China’s military spending will grow at its fastest pace in four years and take up more of the economy, marking the reversal of a two-decade trend in which the country has prioritized growth over its military capabilities.
Defense spending will increase by 7.2 percent in 2023, amounting to $224 billion – much more than the 5.7 percent increase in general government spending.
The move will undoubtedly startle the US administration, which is concerned about Beijing’s strategic intentions in the wake of rising tensions with Taiwan.
President Xi Jinping attends the Chinese National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
China has announced it will increase its military budget by nearly $230 billion this year, or 7.2 percent of its spending
It marks the reversal of a two-decade trend in which China has prioritized economic growth over military spending
In his work report for the annual session of parliament, Li said, “Our armed forces, with a focus on the goals for the centennial of the People’s Liberation Army in 2027, should work on conducting military operations, increasing combat readiness and strengthening military operations. possibilities.’
Beijing is nervous about challenges on fronts including Taiwan – the self-governing island democracy that China claims as its territory to be forcibly brought under its control if necessary.
Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi angered China last August with a visit to Taipei.
In retaliation, China staged war games near Taiwan.
Since then there is a steady stream of arms sales to the island from the US, including ground systems, air defense missiles and F-16 fighters.
Taiwan itself recently extended compulsory military service from four months to a year and revitalized its own defense industries, including build submarines For the first time.
In his remarks on Taiwan, Li said the government had followed the party’s “general policy for the new era of resolving the Taiwan issue and fought resolutely against separatism and interference.”
Along with Taiwan, tensions have risen with the US over China’s militarization of islands in the South China Sea, which it claims almost entirely, and most recently over the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the US east coast.
The National People’s Congress attendees all wore face masks
(LR) Li Zhanshu of the National People’s Congress, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang arrive on March 4 for the opening session of the conference
The sheer capacity of China’s defense industry and Russia’s massive spending on artillery shells and other equipment in its war against Ukraine has led to concerns in the US and elsewhere that Beijing could provide military aid to Moscow.
The 2 million-member People’s Liberation Army is the military wing of the ruling Communist Party, commanded by a party committee headed by president and party leader Xi Jinping.
On Sunday, Premier Li Keqiang said that over the past year “we remained committed to the party’s absolute leadership over the people’s armed forces.”
“The people’s armed forces have stepped up their efforts to increase their political allegiance, empower themselves through reforms, scientific and technological advancements and personnel training, and exercise law-based governance,” he said.
Li went on to praise a number of “significant achievements” in national defense and military development that have made the PLA a “more modernized and capable fighting force.”
According to the World Bank, China spent 1.7% of GDP on its military in 2021, while the US, with its huge overseas commitments, spent a relatively large 3.5%.
But China’s defense spending has remained relatively high, despite skyrocketing government debt.
It also comes as the country’s economy grew last year at its slowest level in at least four decades.
Li set a growth target of about 5% at his addressas he announced plans for a consumer-led revival of the economy still struggling to shake off the effects of ‘zero-COVID’.
While the government says most spending increases will go towards improving troop welfare, the PLA has greatly expanded its presence abroad in recent years.
China has already established a foreign military base in Djibouti, a nation in the Horn of Africa, and is renovating the Ream naval base in Cambodia, which could give it at least a semi-permanent presence in the Gulf of Thailand overlooking the disputed South China Sea.