China already spends more on its military than any country in the world except the US. Now, as defense budgets at the Pentagon and in many NATO countries shrink, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is gearing up for a surge in new funding, according to a new report.
China will spend US$148 billion on its military this year, up from US$139.2 billion last year, according to IHS Jane’s, a defense industry consulting and analysis company.
The US spends far more — a forecast US$574.9 billion this year — but that is down from US$664.3 billion in 2012 after budget cuts slashed spending.
By next year China will spend more on defense than the UK, Germany and France combined, according to IHS. By 2024, it will spend more than all of Western Europe, it estimates.
The surge in weapons spending by Beijing — military outlays this year are set to be a third higher than in 2009 — has come in tandem with an escalation in tensions with its neighbors over long-standing territorial disputes.
The extra spending has bought some flashy hardware. In 2012 China commissioned its first aircraft carrier — the Liaoning — built from the hull of an uncompleted ship ordered by the Soviet navy in the 1980s. A Chinese-made aircraft with stealth radar-evading capabilities flew on a test flight in 2011 as then-US secretary of defense Robert Gates was in Beijing on an official visit.
However, the PLA has been plagued by corruption scandals that may sap its fighting effectiveness.
Seven decades ago, US General Joseph Stilwell was frustrated by corrupt Chinese Nationalist generals who were often more interested in lining their pockets than fighting the Japanese.
Last month, the Chinese magazine Caixin detailed allegations about the extravagant lifestyle of Chinese Lieutenant General Gu Junshan (谷俊山), a deputy head of the PLA’s General Logistics Department. Among the items confiscated from his villa complex were a gold wash basin and a gold statue of Mao Zedong (毛澤東), Caixin reported.
One military analyst, Ian Easton of the Project 2049 Institute in Arlington, Virginia, believes that China’s military is far less capable than its large military budget would suggest.
Last month he wrote that the PLA probably would not be able to effectively attack Taiwan.
In addition, Chinese troops lack real combat experience and some of the PLA’s marquee projects, including the aircraft carrier, are plagued by technical problems.
Chinese pilots are using the Liaoning — its overhaul easy to monitor over the years from the fire escape at an Ikea furniture store in the port of Dalian — as a training platform to learn aircraft carrier operations.
The US Navy currently has 10 active nuclear-powered carriers, all larger than the Liaoning.
China is set to release its military spending for last year and its forecast for this year at the annual session of the National People’s Congress next month in Beijing.
The IHS figures may differ from official figures because they take into account items, including research and development spending and pension costs, that may not be reflected in China’s own estimates.