Asia’s top powers have doubled defense spending in the past decade, spurred by the explosion in military expenditure by China, new research shows.
While troop numbers have remained constant, overall annual spending has grown to US$224 billion last year, according to a report released on Monday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. Spending particularly accelerated in the second half of the decade.
The research covers Taiwan, China, Japan, India and South Korea, which account for about 87 percent of Asia’s defense spending.
Taiwan, which has cut its forces, grew at the lowest rate, 1.8 percent, increasing from US$8 billion in 2000 to US$10 billion last year.
China’s share of the total spending has risen from about 20 percent in 2000 to 40 percent last year, and the report’s authors noted that the official figures they cite likely underestimate how much China actually spends, perhaps by a margin of about 60 percent.
Only the US spends more on defense: about US$670 billion this year, more than double the dollar amount spent in 2001.
China’s lightning economic rise and elevation as a military power has unnerved its neighbors and drawn more attention from the US.
China eclipsed Japan as the top defense spender in the region in 2005. China’s official defense spending last year was US$89.9 billion, followed by Japan with US$58.2 billion and India with US$37 billion.
“There’s no question that the rise of China is in part responsible for the growth in defense spending” in the region, said David Berteau, director of the Washington-based center’s international security program.
He added that countries were also looking at the increased capabilities of their other neighbors.
However, Berteau said it was not comparable to the kind of arms race seen during the Cold War.
“The levels of increases and concentration of spending is nothing like we saw in the 1950s and 1960s, or even the 1970s and 1980s, between East and West,” he said at the report’s launch.
For the report, expenditure in each country was converted into US dollars last year’s value. It found China’s defense spending has been growing annually at a rate of 13.4 percent — three times or more as fast the other countries.
Meanwhile, defense spending in European countries has dropped and force levels have reduced markedly.
Asia’s elevated global role and economic growth, and China’s military buildup has prompted US President Barack Obama’s administration to devote more military resources to the region.
Berteau expects whoever wins the Nov. 6 US presidential election to continue that trend.
The report says the acceleration in Asian defense spending in the second half of the past decade could augur continued significant increases in the years ahead. It noted India, Japan and South Korea are all in the process of procuring high-end fighter jets.
However, future spending will hinge on political and economic circumstances.
Guy Ben-Ari, an analyst at the center focusing on the defense industry, said that while regional economic growth is expected to tail off, an uncertain security situation in the Asia-Pacific region and maritime territorial disputes could drive greater defense spending.
Additional reporting by AFP