Thu, Mar 01, 2018 - Page 6 News List

PLA flexes muscles for funding

DOMESTIC DISPLAY:The Chinese military needs more funding to deal with ‘global uncertainty’ and raise stagnant salaries, as relying on national pride is not enough

Reuters, BEIJING

With stealth jets entering service, leaked pictures of new high-tech naval artillery and proud reports of maneuvers that “dare to shine the sword,” China’s armed forces are putting on a show of power as they lobby for greater defense spending.

Although it is the world’s largest military, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been privately unhappy that it got less than double-digit funding increases the past two years.

It has recently been making the case that it needs more money to deal with increased global uncertainty, diplomats and several sources with ties to the armed forces say.

In the run-up to the defense budget’s release at the annual meeting of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) next week, state media outlets have been filled with coverage of military drills, advanced new equipment and thrilling tales in a new film loosely based on China’s evacuating people from Yemen’s civil war in 2015.

The overall message is clear: China faces serious challenges, from US President Donald Trump’s threats of force against nuclear-armed North Korea, to an increasingly tense border dispute with India and what Beijing sees as efforts by Taiwan to assert its sovereignty.

Confronting those challenges requires cash, a point the military is trying to drive home.

“If you keep telling your people China is facing all these threats, you have to be able to back it up to show you are spending enough,” a senior Beijing-based Western diplomat said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) promised in his keynote speech to the Chinese Communist Party National Congress in October last year to make China’s armed forces world-class by the middle of the century. The military has deployed an increasingly sophisticated propaganda machine to make sure that promise stays top of mind.

A professionally shot air force video released last month to celebrate the Lunar New Year entitled “New fighters of the great power to safeguard the new era” led with footage of the latest fighter to enter service, the J-20 stealth fighter, designed as a counterpart to the radar-evading Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

“It looks like they are making the case for a large rise in defense spending,” an Asian diplomat said.

China’s defense spending is only about one-quarter that of the US, if official figures are accurate. China has repeatedly said that it has no hostile intent, that its military is for defensive missions, and that defense spending is transparent.

Many of the nation’s neighbors beg to differ, calling out what they see as Chinese saber-rattling as it ramps up drills in the region.

Vietnam has tightened its military relationship with the US. Taiwan has pledged to grow defense spending and wants to buy new, advanced US equipment.

The official PLA Daily last month said that although China was committed to a defensive military policy, it had to “dare to shine the sword” with air patrols far from China’s coast, whether close to Taiwan or over uninhabited islets disputed with Japan in the East China Sea.

One source with ties to the military said another pressing area for more spending was salaries, which have not kept up with those of private-sector workers.

“Simply relying on ‘the great Xi to lead us to victory’ won’t cut it,” the source said, referring to efforts to recruit the best and the brightest into the military by appealing to national pride.

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