Mon, Apr 06, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Asia forking out on defense in spite of slowdown: experts

AFP , SINGAPORE

Increased military spending by China and India is forcing other Asia-Pacific countries to modernize their armed forces despite the severe impact of the global financial crisis, experts say.

Data from defense research firm Jane’s Information Group estimates total military spending in the region rising year-on-year — from about US$220 billion last year to US$239 billion this year and higher still next year.

Those figures include external defense and homeland security and cover a region stretching from Central Asia to Australia.

“India and China are forcing the countries to think very hard strategically about their defense capabilities,” Jon Grevatt, a regional defense specialist with Jane’s, told reporters from Bangkok.

PRESSURE TO SPEND

He said that although money is tight across the region, “the pressure of not spending on defense is very high due to the considerable military influence that China and India are assuming in this part of the world.”

Even countries not bordering China and India are upgrading their arsenals.

Singapore, despite suffering its worst-ever economic slowdown, will increase its defense spending by an annual 6.0 percent to US$7.53 billion in the new fiscal year starting this month, the government says.

Its neighbors — Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand — are poised to follow suit, Grevatt said.

Research by Jane’s confirms other figures showing China is now the No. 1 military spender in the region, surpassing Japan for the first time least year, when Beijing allocated almost US$59 billion for its defense needs.

China and India have both amassed wealth after years of rapid economic growth.

“They want to use that wealth to develop and procure military capability so that they are perceived as a country that can defend their assets,” Grevatt said.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) said the military needed modernization “across the board” as a proposed 15.3 percent rise in defense spending to US$69 billion for this year was unveiled by Beijing.

China has come under strong pressure, especially from the US and Japan, to be more transparent about the nature of its military build-up.

SAME AS WASHINGTON

Alan Dupont, from the University of Sydney’s Center for International Security Studies, said Beijing “should not be criticized for doing exactly what Washington has done, which is to modernize its forces and increase its spending on defense.”

India is also splashing out despite the slowdown, with its defense budget increasing by 24 percent to US$29.4 billion for the fiscal year beginning last Wednesday, the steepest rise since independence in 1947.

The bulk of that money will go towards modernizing its military — the world’s fourth largest.

India’s 1.2-million-strong army is shopping for helicopters, artillery, armor and infantry gear while its air force is expected to hand out a 126-aircraft contract worth almost US$12 billion.

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