Bigger Pentagon budget ‘could challenge China’

Donald Trump’s vow to boost defence spending may lead to stronger American military presence in the South China Sea, according to analysts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2017, 11:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 9:27am

The US military would strengthen its presence in the South China Sea if its budget was sharply increased, posing a major security challenge for China, mainland observers have said.

But Beijing would not drastically increase its military expenditures to catch up, they added.

US President Donald Trump has called for a “historic” increase in military spending, reportedly seeking up to US$54 billion – 10 per cent of the current budget – in additional expenditure. This money would largely come from cutting the budget for diplomacy and environmental protection.

Trump pledges even bigger US military, declaring ‘nobody’s going to mess with us’

Trump told the National Governors Association on Monday that the defence budget would include spending to rebuild the “depleted military of the United States of America at a time we most need it”.

A US official familiar with the proposal said Trump’s request for the Pentagon included more money for shipbuilding, aircraft and establishing “a more robust presence in key international waterways and choke points” such as the South China Sea, according to Reuters.

Trump’s planned expansion is an understandable reaction to a reduction in military spending during the era of former president Barack Obama, and would have an impact on China, according to mainland analysts.

“Trump does take China as one of his major antagonists,” said Song Zhongping, a military affairs commentator from Phoenix TV.

China, US military planes come within 305 metres in ‘unsafe encounter’ over South China Sea

“To upgrade the US Navy and air force would include the enhancement of the capability to use force in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and even the Korean peninsula, which will certainly affect China.”

In response to Trump’s proposal, the foreign ministry said the US should respect the efforts by China and Southeast Asian countries to keep security in South China Sea stable.

“We hope the policies of the US would be beneficial to international peace and stability,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said yesterday.

Military analysts have called for Beijing to resume double-digit increases in defence spending to meet rising challenges at home and abroad.

Defence spending increased by 7.6 per cent year on year in 2016, to 954 billion yuan (HK$1.08 trillion), marking the first single-digit growth since 2010.

Mattis says no need for dramatic U.S. military moves in S. China Sea

Global Times, a hawkish tabloid under People’s Daily, published an editorial calling for a double-digit increase in military spending this year.

“In 2016 the international situation changed significantly and … China is facing a sharp surge in strategic risk,” the editorial said.

But Tao Wenzhao, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it was too early to predict an arms race between China and the US because the first priority of the American military was more likely to be the Middle East. “Whether to increase the budget and build military muscle and how to use this enhanced power are two separate questions,” Tao said.

Song also said that China did not necessarily need its expenditures to rise as much as US ones to lift military capability and combat readiness. “The Chinese military is downsizing and restructuring, which could lead to a larger spending rise per capita.”