Military spending by Asia’s major powers increased dramatically over the past decade with China leading the way, as its defence budget quadrupled since 2000, according to a study.
Defence spending in China and four other Asian countries doubled over 10 years and will surpass Europe’s military expenditures this year, said the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, on Monday.
Asia’s arms race still leaves it trailing US defence spending, but it will ensure the United States likely will stick to its plan to shift the country’s strategic focus towards the Asia-Pacific region, it said.
Defence spending in mainland China, India, South Korea and Taiwan reached a total of US$224 billion last year, which “equates to almost twice the amount spent by these five countries in 2000”, said the CSIS study.
“With Asian defence spending projected to overtake that of Europe by the end of this year, the United States’ posture rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region is likely to continue,” it said.
In 2005, China’s military budget outstripped Japan’s as the largest in Asia and recorded a 13.4 per cent annual rise that year.
Among all countries, China now ranks second behind the United States in total military spending, though the Pentagon budget still dwarfs Beijing’s defence spending at more than US$600 billion year.
Experts say China’s emergence as a global economic giant has driven the spike in military spending, as Beijing seeks to assert its influence beyond its borders to safeguard its access to sea lanes and resources.
In last year, Beijing spent US$25.8 billion on new weapons and related research and development, up from US$7.3 billion in 2000, the report said.
China’s total defence budget grew from US$22.5 billion to US$89.9 billion between 2000 and last year, said the report, citing official figures from the Beijing government.
But the study acknowledged that independent estimates put Chinese spending at a much higher level, with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimating Beijing’s last year defence budget at US$142.2 billion.
India’s defence spending grew 47.6 per cent over the decade, reaching US$37 billion last year. Japan’s military budget rose from US$40 billion to US$58.2 billion.
South Korea’s defence investments swelled from US$17 billion to US$29 billion, while Taiwan’s defence budget expanded at a slower pace, from US$8 billion in 2000 to US$10 billion last year.
Apart from Japan, which spent US$238,000 per soldier last year, the four other countries devoted US$28,000 to US$44,000 to training, paying and equipping each of its soldiers, the study said.
“This discrepancy was predominantly caused by the small size of the Japanese forces, approximately 244,300 troops last year, relative to the other countries,” it said.