Members of an air assault brigade of the PLA airborne troops performs an anti-terrorism rescue mission during the Air Force opening-day event in 2021. (WAN QUAN / FOR CHINA DAILY)
On Sunday China announced a 7.2 percent increase in its defense budget for the coming year, up slightly from last year's 7.1 percent rate of increase. Some Western media outlets immediately hyped up the defense budget increase, and even linked it to the cross-Straits tensions.
But if we take an objective look at the growth in the defense budget and the demands of military modernization, their scaremongering proves baseless.
China will use the increase in its defense budget to cultivate military talent, modernize weapons and equipment, reform the military and provide services to veterans
Recent data show that the defense budgets of many countries have been continuously increasing despite national and global economic slowdowns. In fact, the total global military expenditure for 2023 signifies the building of a "warfare economy" which some countries use to mint profits.
The United States unveiled a defense budget of $857.9 billion for 2023 — an increase of a record 13.9 percent. Not only does the US have the highest defense budget in the world (more than the combined total of several countries) but also the US has vowed to provide at least $800 million in security aid to Ukraine as well as providing other aid including $6.5 billion for the US costs of sending troops and weapons to Eastern Europe and equipping allied forces so they can defeat Russia.
Japan, too, has raised its military expenditure by 26.3 percent to a record high of 6.3 trillion yen ($49.84 billion). Last year, the Japanese government set a goal of doubling the defense budget's share of the GDP to 2 percent by 2027, not least because it plans to spend a record amount of money on US-made Tomahawk cruise missiles to increase its strike capability.
European Union member states have also joined the arms race by raising their defense budgets, with the US urging NATO countries with relatively small military budgets to substantially increase their defense budget. For instance, the French government has approved a military budget of more than €43.9 billion ($42.8 billion), up 7.4 percent year-on-year.
And the German government has set up a €100-billion defense fund to meet NATO's target of spending 2 percent of GDP. Many other European countries have also increased their defense budget, with the United Kingdom planning to double its defense budget by 2030 so that it accounts for 3 percent of GDP. Overall, all major military powers have raised their military budgets for 2023 by quite a high margin.
In particular, the US has increased its defense budget in order to corner Russia and to check China's rise.
China has had to increase its 2023 defense budget so it can better cope with the changing international and regional situations and deal with any emergencies. And considering the development of China's military has been disproportionally lower than the size of its economy and growing international clout, the single digit increase is very low.
During the defense spending cuts in the 1980s, China reduced its defense budget to the minimum to maintain the basic living expenses of the army. Therefore, China is still improving the welfare of its military personnel.
China's military spending last year was still less than 2 percent of its GDP. In contrast, the US' humungous defense budget and its proportion to the country's GDP dispel the myth of China's "high" defense expenditure posing a threat to the world.
China's defense expenditure is the second-highest in the world and is on par with the size of its economy. Though increasing annually, China's defense budget still accounts for a small share of its GDP — about 1.2 percent in 2022 for example — while the military budget of the US is about 4 percent of its GDP.
China has the capability to increase its defense budget further, but has chosen not to as it doesn't have any intention of joining the arms race. Despite this, many foreign media have resorted to double standard of claiming that Western countries' swelling defense budgets are to defend against potential threats while any increase in China's defense budget is to challenge the leadership of the US in the Asia-Pacific region.
Some even link the increase in Beijing's military budget to the Taiwan question. But the fact is, the Taiwan question is China's internal matter and Beijing has been prioritizing a peaceful resolution to the question. The fact that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party lost many key districts in the 2022 Taiwan local elections in November shows Taiwan residents have rejected the DPP's policy of "Taiwan independence" and voted against its incompetent governance.
Kuomintang Vice-Chairman Hsia Li-yan's visit to the Chinese mainland from Feb 8 to 17, as the leader of a delegation, showed the mainstream public support for stable and pragmatic cross-Straits cooperation. Even the separatist DPP knows that cross-Straits peace can be maintained only by acknowledging the 1992 Consensus that there is only one China and Taiwan is an integral part of China.
China will use the increase in its defense budget to cultivate military talent, modernize weapons and equipment, reform the military and provide services to veterans. In other words, the increased amount will help China implement major projects, accelerate the upgrading of weapons and equipment, establish a new talent cultivation system, and improve the support system for soldiers.
Since the international security environment is deteriorating, China needs a strong military to not only safeguard its national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity but also take part in international noncombatant missions such as disaster relief, international peacekeeping, and rescue and relief work.
China has never sought and will never seek hegemony, so the Western powers should not misinterpret China's need for a higher defense budget. The Pentagon has exaggerated the Chinese military's strength and distorted its goals over the years to hype up the "China threat" theory so it can keep raising the US' defense budget.
China is committed to the path of peaceful development and prepares the defense budget based on the actual situation and actual needs, and poses no threat to any country.
The author is a professor at the School of Law, Hainan University, and a former military scholar.
The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.