Seemingly by sheer coincidence, China and the United States made public their military budgets for 2017 almost simultaneously in the first week of March.
The US announced its budget at $604.5 billion (RMB 4.2 trillion), representing an increase of 10 percent and accounting for 4 percent of its GDP. The Chinese military spending for this year is RMB 1.02 trillion, 7 percent higher than last year, making up 1.3 percent of its GDP.
It is easily seen that the US’s military spending is four times larger than that of China, or 18 times larger if calculated in per capita terms. It is even larger than the total military spending of the seven countries that follow the US in budget ranking, namely China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France and Japan. What’s more, NATO’s armed strength is a substantial plus to the US’s military power, for it is no secret that the military alliance’s commanding power is in the hands of Washington. The US has asked allies to increase their military budgets, so that each reaches 2 percent of their respective GDP.
Though the US’s military power and annual budget look, for any outside observer, far too large, President Donald Trump thinks it not large enough. He wants to “rebuild the American navy” by increasing the number of its warships from the current 275 to 350 and the number of aircraft carriers to 12, saying that he would equip the US troops with the best arms so that “when called upon to fight they only do one thing, win.”
Trump’s most exciting slogan is “make America great again.” This ambition may be justifiable if applied to the understanding of the country’s economy, for the current economic performance is indeed lackluster compared with the US economy in the early years after World War II, when it accounted for half of the global economy’s total volume. However, it is not a question at all when it comes to the US’s military strength.
Since the end of World War II, the American armed forces have remained the most powerful in the world. For example, the US has 10 times more aircraft carriers than China and Russia and far outnumbers the two countries in terms of fifth-generation jet fighters, which it began equipping itself with 10 years ago, including the fleet of more than 180 F-22 stealth fighters. Trump was really dishonest when he used the so-called Chinese and Russian threats as an excuse to trumpet the “make America great again” theory.
Trump’s plan to dramatically increase the military budget has drawn criticism from the world media. The Times of India and India Today pointed out the sharp contrast between China’s moderate increase of 7 percent and the US’s surge of 10 percent. After Trump announced the budget, an article that went viral on the Internet rapped the move. In Trump and His Obscene War Machine, the writer, Vijay Prashad, says Trump’s decision to cut budgets for non-military programs demonstrated his values of “guns over butter.” Russian experts called the move “very dangerous” and “likely to trigger an uncontrollable arms race,” saying that the US always wants to destroy other nations, which “is a shameless action.”
The 7 percent increase of China’s defense budget runs counter to many observers’ expectation. Last year’s increase was 7.6 percent, the lowest in six years. They didn’t expect that this year’s budget rise would be even lower – a mere 7 percent, for most of them predicted it to be a two-digit growth, given the changing international situation, the tensions between China and some of its neighboring countries and the 10 percent increase of the US military budget. Some commented that the 7 percent figure indicates the consistency of China’s policy of matching the growth of its military spending with that of the GDP.
China certainly knows that security risks are soaring in the world and is fully aware of the function of military strength in international competition. But its understanding of security is multi-dimensional rather than eyeing the military arena only. China does not worship military power; instead, it favors negotiation for settling international disputes.
Most Chinese people understand and support the government’s decision to limit the military budget in favor improving people’s livelihood, but they also feel it to be somewhat a pity. They think the 1.3 percent proportion of defense spending in the GDP is too low when the world’s total military spending accounts for 2.6 percent of the global GDP. It is true that China should not engage in external expansion and arms race but for the sake of its own safety, it should properly increase the spending on defense as the national economy grows. The ratio should not be lower than 2 percent.