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Two Sessions: Beijing budgets for international influence

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Yesterday, the Two Sessions, China’s biggest annual political ritual, began in Beijing. One of the points we noted in our report on the opening day was that China’s military budget is set to expand by 8.1 percent in 2018, to 1.1 trillion yuan ($173 billion). This is China’s largest military budget increase in three years, NPR reports, but it remains a fraction of the United States’ budget in excess of $700 billion.

The budget increase predictably led to alarm abroad, and defensive words in Chinese state media.

  • China is spending “an extraordinary amount of money” on international influence, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said at a hearing in Washington, D.C. titled “Worldwide Threats,” Reuters reports.
  • A network of potential military bases and aircraft carrier upgrades is also worrying Washington, Bloomberg reports.
  • “China has obviously not fallen into the mind-set of engaging in an arms race with the U.S. Otherwise it could totally realize double-digit increases in its defense expenditure,” China’s nationalistic Global Times tabloid responded in an editorial.
  • “China’s military lags well behind other major countries,” particularly in per-capita term, the China Daily also emphasized in an editorial.
  • “Taiwan has no intention of getting involved in an arms race with China, or with neighboring countries… however, we expect to strengthen our capabilities in self-developing arms, including locally built vessels and aircraft, or even information and communication warfare,” Taiwan’s defense ministry spokesman Chen Chung-ji said, according to the Associated Press.
  • “I believe Japan would also have to brace for intensified use of various other assets around the area, including the Senkaku Islands,” a Singapore-based naval analyst told the Japan Times in response to the budget increase news.
  • Asian arms race is on, stoked by China’s booming defence budget, Japanese analysts say” is how the South China Morning Post headlined a piece on March 5.

China’s military isn’t the only foreign-facing part of China’s government to get a budget boost this year. A 15.6 percent increase in spending on diplomacy is also planned this year, SCMP reports.

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Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.