CCP’s military buildup continued in 2019, report finds

CCP’s military buildup continued in 2019, report finds

FORUM Staff

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) increased its annual military spending again in 2019, new research shows, a generational trend that has heightened concern among the world community over the potential for CCP tactics of intimidation and interference in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

The CCP’s military expenditure hit U.S. $261 billion in 2019, jumping 5.1% from 2018 spending levels, according to an April 2020 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). It marks the 25th straight year of increased spending by the CCP on its armed forces, armaments and other military expenses.

Since the mid-1990s, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has boosted military spending about tenfold, SIPRI has reported. (Pictured: The Chinese Communist Party displays DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles during a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.)

Experts say the PLA’s military expansion is part of its range of tactics designed to weaken regional stability. Among other inflammatory acts, the CCP has constructed military installations, including missile systems, on artificial islands and reefs in the South China Sea. Asserting their own sovereignty rights, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations dispute China’s territorial claims in this vital shipping route.

“The Communist Party of China is looking to change the world order to one where Chinese national power is more important than international law; a system where the ‘strong do what they will and the weak do what they must,’” Adm. Philip S. Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said during a February 2020 speech in Sydney, Australia.

Globally, military expenditures reached an estimated U.S. $1.9 trillion in 2019, led again by the United States (U.S. $732 billion), followed by China, India (U.S. $71.1 billion), Russia (U.S. $65.1 billion) and Saudi Arabia (U.S. $61.8 billion), SIPRI reported. It’s the first time two Asian nations have been among the top three spenders; researchers said rivalry between China and India helped fuel spending hikes. 

“Global military expenditure was 7.2% higher in 2019 than it was in 2010, showing a trend that military spending growth has accelerated in recent years,” SIPRI researcher Nan Tian said in a media release accompanying the institute’s report, “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2019.”

The report follows new research published in January 2020 by SIPRI indicating the PRC is the world’s second-biggest arms producer, behind the United States.

Observers say 2019 could represent a high-water mark in military spending for some time. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with its significant costs in terms of lives and livelihoods, is stunting economic growth and set to usher in a prolonged period of belt-tightening measures by national governments. 

“This is the highest level of spending since the 2008 global financial crisis and probably represents a peak in expenditure,” Tian said.

CCP military spending likely is significantly underestimated, its true extent obscured by data distortion and opaque reporting within the PRC, according to Frederico Bartels, a policy analyst for defense budgeting at the Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy.

“Beijing still manipulates data to fit its desired narrative,” Bartels wrote in a March 2020 article published on the Defense One website. “This has long been the case in China’s defense budget, where the party-government omits and withholds data to project a non-threatening image of its People’s Liberation Army.”

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