China expands defense budget 7.2%, marking slight increase

China on Sunday announced a 7.2% increase in its defense budget for the coming year, up slightly from last year’s 7.1% rate of increase.

That marks the eighth consecutive year of single-digit percentage point increases in what is now the world’s second-largest military budget. The 2023 figure was given as 1.55 trillion yuan ($224 billion), roughly double the figure from 2013.

Along with the world’s biggest standing army, China has the world’s largest navy and recently launched its third aircraft carrier. According to the U.S., it also has the largest aviation force in the Indo-Pacific, with more than half of its fighter planes consisting of fourth or fifth generation models.

China also boasts a massive stockpile of missiles, along with stealth aircraft, bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons, advanced surface ships and nuclear powered submarines.

The 2 million-member People’s Liberation Army is the military wing of the ruling Communist Party, commanded by a party commission led by president and party leader Xi Jinping.

In his report Sunday to the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, Premier Li Keqiang said that over the past year, “We remained committed to the Party’s absolute leadership over the people’s armed forces.”

“The people’s armed forces intensified efforts to enhance their political loyalty, to strengthen themselves through reform, scientific and technological advances, and personnel training, and to practice law-based governance,” Li said.

Li touched on what he called a number of “major achievements” in national defense and military development that have made the PLA a “more modernized and capable fighting force.”

He offered no details but cited the armed forces’ contributions to border defense, maritime rights protection, counterterrorism and stability maintenance, disaster rescue and relief, the escorting of merchant ships and China’s draconian “zero-COVID” strategy that entailed lockdowns, quarantines and other coercive measures.

“We should consolidate and enhance integration of national strategies and strategic capabilities and step up capacity building in science, technology and industries related to national defense.” That includes promoting “mutual support between civilian sectors and the military,” he said.

China spent 1.7% of GDP on its military in 2021, according to the World Bank, while the U.S., with its massive overseas obligations, spent a relatively high 3.5%.

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