China’s vast military budget is set to soar again this year. But the “official” figure, set to be released this week, won’t even remotely begin to reflect the real level of Beijing’s military spending, a long-standing and growing crisis for defense planners.
Unlike the well-scrutinized budgets of the United States and many other nations, much of China’s spending is deeply hidden. The “People’s Liberation Army” is also a profit-making venture that turns its profits into purchases of arms and other military-related items. These expenditures are “off the books,” and not counted as part of Beijing’s budget.
Cultural differences also make up a difference in the way the U.S. and China calculate their military expenses, with many social benefits provided to U.S. servicemen and women considered part of American defense spending, but not so by Beijing.
China has also been able to avoid many, if not most, of the costs necessary to develop highly advanced weaponry through a variety of means. For example, classic espionage has allowed Beijing to access the technology to develop miniaturized warheads for ICBM use without any of the significant expenses relating to research and development. In other cases, purchases of western “dual use” technology, under the guise of the items being solely dedicated to civilian purposes, has allowed China to take a giant leap forward at a minimal cost.
Sales of supercomputers to Beijing have also allowed the nation’s military to move forward quickly and cheaply.
Understanding the crucial differences in which the two nations calculate and publicize the amount they spend on their armed forces is vital to American national security. Repeatedly, those wishing to slash the Pentagon’s budget claim that the U.S. spends far more than several of its enemies. The reality is, however, that those unfriendly nations lack a free press that has the capability to delve into how much their government spends on defense items, as well as a robust internal opposition that can debate how to much to spend on arms versus other needs.
Within the past several days, startling revelations about China’s vast military operation dedicated to hacking into American and other countries’ computer systems has been noted. Targets include civilian infrastructure, corporate, news media and defense sites. Beijing continues to maintain that this operation doesn’t even exist as a government program.
Another dangerous misconception about Beijing’s military might is that, while their forces are large, they are not as sophisticated as their American counterparts. In reality, China’s armed forces are the technological equal of any force on the planet, including America’s. Their navy, equipped with an aircraft carrier and growing in numbers, is a massive danger to the U.S. in the Far East. Not long ago, a Chinese sub managed to evade detection and emerge next to an American aircraft carrier. Beijing has demonstrated the operative ability to destroy satellites in space.
Both the federal budget crisis and the misinterpretation of China’s military expenditure rate have prompted sharp cuts to the heavily diminished American armed forces. Already, the U.S. has had to cancel the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Middle East, and sequestration cuts threaten to so deeply affect training that approximately 65% of Army and Marine Corps brigades may be operationally ineffective within a year. Ships, planes and other essential equipment will suffer from a lack of maintenance as almost the entire Department of Defense civilian workforce prepares for a 20% cut in their hours, due to the sequestration’s furlough program.
The size and sophistication of China’s armed forces are matched by their aggressiveness. General Xu openly stated that his nation should prepare for combat. Chinese naval forces have come close to conflict with Japan and Vietnam, and have occupied offshore regions belonging to the Philippines.