China is likely to unveil its military spending for this year over the weekend, flagging the direction that Beijing plans to take in the wake of US President Barack Obama’s launch of a new “pivot” to reinforce US influence across Asia.
Beijing has not set a date to announce the annual People’s Liberation Army (PLA) budget, but it has made a habit of releasing the number at a news conference preceding the annual parliament session, which starts on Monday.
Although the official Chinese budget is widely thought to under-count real military spending, neighbors and the Obama administration are likely to read the figures for this year as one signpost indicating how Beijing is responding to renewed US focus on the Asia-Pacific and to maritime territorial disputes.
China has sought to balance its wariness of US moves with a desire for steady relations with Washington, especially as both sides grapple with domestic politics this year, when Obama faces a re-election fight and the Chinese Communist Party undergoes a major leadership change.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), who is almost certain to succeed Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), stressed his desire to keep tension in check when he visited the US last month.
However, Beijing’s growing military capabilities are running into the long-entrenched US presence in Asia, creating risks of miscalculation and worse.
Obama has sought to reassure Asian allies that the US would stay a key player in the area, and the Pentagon has said it will “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.”
China has repeatedly warned the US over arms sales to Taiwan and more recently China’s naval reach has extended further, as have tensions over territorial claims.
China’s military build-up is likely to continue “unabated,” irrespective of US moves in Asia, the Military Commander for the Asia-Pacific region Admiral Robert Willard said on Tuesday.
China’s National People’s Congress more or less automatically approves the PLA budget which throughout the 1990s and the past decade recorded a near-unbroken run of double-digit increases.
Last year, China said it would increase defense spending to 601.1 billion yuan (US$95.6 billion), a 12.7 percent rise on the previous year, resuming double-digit growth after a dip to 7.5 percent growth in 2010.
However, the Pentagon estimated China’s total military spending in 2010 was more than US$160 billion, which would easily make it the world’s second biggest defense spender after the US.
Obama’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year calls for a Pentagon base budget of US$525.4 billion, about US$5.1 billion less than approved for this year.