Despite economic slowdown and meager growth in China, many countries are boosting weapons purchases
The struggle between the US and China over China’s rise and their rivalry for primacy in Asia is triggering a regional arms race, a new report concludes.
According to a report released on Feb. 22 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), six of the world’s 10 biggest arms importers between 2011 and 2015 were in the Asia-Pacific region: India, China, Australia, Pakistan, Vietnam and South Korea. South Korea ranked 10th on the list, accounting for 2.6% of global arms imports.
Arms imports in Asia and Oceania were up sharply, by 26%, from the previous five years (2006-2010). Huge amounts of weapons were bought by countries in the region, making up 46% of global arms imports.
Of the other countries on the list, three are in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Turkey) while one is the US.“China continues to expand its military capabilities with imported and domestically produced weapons,” a SIPRI analyst was quoted as saying in the report. “Neighbouring states such as India, Viet Nam and Japan are also significantly strengthening their military forces.”
Despite the economic malaise resulting from slowing growth, military spending is increasing in the Asia-Pacific region. The Wall Street Journal noted that, while states’ purchasing power is linked to their economic strength, Asia-Pacific countries are not reducing their military spending despite the pressure resulting from plunging prices of raw materials and stalling growth in China.
In a recently published report, the UK’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) stated that last year‘s economic downturn had barely affected military spending in the Asia-Pacific region. The ratio of military spending to gross domestic product (GDP) throughout the entire Asia-Pacific region last year was 1.48%, the highest it has been since 2010, the IISS said.The IISS also pointed out that attention last year South Korea, China, Japan and Indonesia all announced plans to increase their military spending.
“In order to effectively respond to the security risk factors connected with the Korean Peninsula and the possibility of a North Korea provocation, we have set the rate of increase for defense spending next year at 4.0%, which is higher than the rate at which overall expenditures will increase (3.0%),” South Korean President Park Geun-hye said during a policy speech before the National Assembly in Oct. 2015.
Japan has been increasing its defense budget for four years in a row, with defense spending last year surpassing 5 trillion yen (US$44.30 billion) for the first time ever. This was described by officials at the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) at the time as creating a greater deterrence against China.
In China, the situation is largely the same. While President Xi Jinping announced that the Chinese armed forces would be cut by 300,000 soldiers during his speech at a military parade in Sep. 2015 on the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II and has recently pushed through several measures designed to reorganize the military, China’s defense budget is likely to receive a substantial boost.
Next month, China is expected to announce a double-digit rate of increase in this year’s defense budget at the National People’s Congress next month, Reuters reported on Feb. 16. Reuters quoted an anonymous military figure as saying that the move is intended to assuage the concerns of the Chinese army about the reduction in forces and to respond to pressing issues, including the territorial conflict in the South China Sea. Since 2011, China has been steadily increasing its defense budget by 10% or 12% each year.
While the US has maintained its lead in weapons exports, China is experiencing considerable growth in the area. According to SIFRI figures, the US accounted for 33% of total arms exports between 2011 and 2015, leaving Russia, the second biggest arms exporters at 25%, in the dust.With Russian exports slipping for two years in a row because of the sanctions from the West that followed conflict in Ukraine, the US arms industry appears to be enjoying a boom.“
The USA has sold or donated major arms to at least 96 states in the past five years, and the US arms industry has large outstanding export orders, including for a total of 611 F-35 combat aircraft to 9 states,” SIFRI said. The F-35 is a cutting-edge stealth fighter.China accounted for 5.9% of total arms exports, edging out France, Germany and the UK to take third place on the list.