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Inside the stealthy defense budget of China

Jessica Evans Avatar
china defense budget

People's Liberation Army Air Force airmen marching. (U.S. Air Force photo by Scott M. Ash/Released)

Is China’s defense budget a threat to American interests? In a word, yes. But it’s complicated. China’s rapidly growing defense budget and military modernization efforts pose a potential challenge to American military superiority and global security. The U.S., a long-standing global military power, faces an emerging rival. China’s accelerating military growth challenges American military dominance and presents a critical threat to U.S. interests and global security.

In this article, let’s unravel China’s defense budget as much as we can. We’ll explore its implication, and explain why America should be keenly focused on China’s unfolding story.

Decoding China’s Defense Budget

China has been rapidly increasing its defense budget, with a 7.2% increase in 2021 and continued growth in 2022. But the actual amount could be much higher. That’s because Chinese authorities are known for their secrecy and often understate true defense expenditures.

Experts suggest that the potential under-reporting of China’s defense budget by up to 50% implies that its military capabilities may be expanding faster than anticipated. In short – that’s a super big deal since it has the potential to challenge America’s long-held military superiority and alters the international power balance.

Unraveling the Dragon’s Motives

China’s drive to bolster its military power is multifaceted. The primary goals include modernizing its military to compete with the U.S. and other global powers. Of course it’s no secret China also wants to assert control over disputed territories and secure its borders. Adding to that, the country is keen on projecting influence in the Indo-Pacific region through its Belt and Road Initiative.

congress building for china defense budget
National People’s Congress Office Building.

The Hidden Figures

China’s defense budget figures might not reveal the complete picture. Under-reporting may not be the only factor that obscures the true budget. Irregular accounting and expenditures between domestic and foreign budgets could contribute to the limited information available. This raises a series of concerns for the American military about the actual scope of China’s military expansion.

What we do know is that China is funneling a lot of money into its military to make it as modern as possible. In terms of modernization, it’s focusing on advanced technologies like hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, cyberwarfare, and space capabilities. This effort narrows the gap between China and the U.S. and other technologically advanced militaries. In turn, it might pose a challenge to American military supremacy.

China’s current military priorities include expanding its naval and air capabilities and, developing advanced weapons systems. All the while, it’s quietly working to enhance its space and cyber capabilities. China is also seeking to modernize its military and increase its global reach. China is also focused on the Indo-Pacific region, too. This means that these priorities can key us into China’s long-range goals. It’s clear the country wants to grow both politically and economically. It also wants to protect its interests and project its influence on the world stage.

American Security at Stake

If this is starting to sound alarming, that’s because it is.

China’s increased military spending and advanced technology investments might mean potential threats to American national security. In fact, we’re already starting to see military buildups. As we watch China develop more advanced hypersonic weapons, AI, and make strides in cyberwarfare, it stands to reason America should do the same.

Safeguarding Allies and Regional Stability

China’s ongoing efforts to assert control over disputed territories has implications for other countries, too. American allies like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan might all be impacted by China’s actions. Of course, America has a vested interest in maintaining regional stability and defending its allies’ sovereignty. But without knowing the full extent, it’s hard to create that COA.

The American Counterplay

To stay ahead, the U.S. must be acutely aware of China’s increasing defense budget and military modernization endeavors. To maintain its military edge, it might be a good idea for America to start funding advanced tech. Adding on, fortifying alliances in the Indo-Pacific region isn’t a bad idea. Oh, and devising a comprehensive strategy to counter China’s mounting influence is a good start too.

In short, the rise of China’s defense budget and military modernization are factors that America cannot overlook. By staying informed and proactively addressing these developments, the U.S. can maintain its position as a global leader and guarantee the security of its citizens and allies.