China expected to set moderate defense budget growth for 2024
Military spending considers modernization needs, security environment, economic situation: experts
Published: Feb 28, 2024 10:41 PM
Two J-20 stealth fighter jets attached to an aviation brigade of the PLA Air Force take off for a flight training exercise in early February of 2024. ( by Liu Weipeng)

Two J-20 stealth fighter jets attached to an aviation brigade of the PLA Air Force take off for a flight training exercise in early February of 2024. ( by Liu Weipeng)

China will likely continue its trend of moderately increasing its defense budget in 2024, prompted by the country's needs in military modernization, the challenging security environment, and the recovering economic situation, experts predicted shortly before the figure's anticipated announcement next week.

A draft for the defense budget for the year 2024 is scheduled to be released in Beijing at the opening of the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature, on Tuesday.

China's defense expenditure for 2023 was set to 1.5537 trillion yuan ($224.79 billion), an increase of 7.2 percent compared with the figure of 2022. The country has maintained single-digit growth in its annual defense budget for eight consecutive years since 2016.

The gradual increase of China's defense budget is a trend, said Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military expert.

Fu told the Global Times that China is undergoing an important period of military modernization, which includes replacing legacy weapons and equipment with modern ones, and enhancing personnel training to operate them. 

In 2024, China's third aircraft carrier, the electromagnetic catapults-equipped Fujian, is expected to conduct test voyages, and other advanced military assets like the J-20 fighter jets will likely continue to ramp up production, observers said.

To master these new weapons and equipment, intensive training exercises are needed, and the training requires funding, Fu said.

China has not fought a war in decades, and only through realistic combat training can its force maintain the capability to safeguard national sovereignty, territorial integrity and development interests, and to serve as a creditable deterrent in preventing wars, analysts said, noting that another aspect accompanied by military modernization is the recruitment and the welfare of personnel, as more highly educated talents are required to operate the more advanced weapons and equipment.

The security environments around China and in the world have been deteriorating, and China's military spending must also take these factors into account, another Chinese military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times.

Over the past year in the South China Sea, the US instigated the Philippines to provoke China's islands and reefs and gained access to additional military bases in the Philippines to enhance its military encirclement on China at the southern end of the so-called first island chain.

Rallying its allies and partners, including Australia and Japan, the US continued to frequently carry out close-in reconnaissance and hold provocative exercises on China's doorstep in attempts to contain China's development.

Japan, taking advantage of the US strategy in containing China, also showed signs of revival of its right-wing militarism, as it broke away from its post-war self-defense-only principle and began procuring and deploying missiles that can attack other countries.

In the Taiwan Straits, the recent election of secessionist Lai Ching-te as the island of Taiwan's next regional leader added fuel to the flames lit by the Democratic Progressive Party authorities' years of "Taiwan independence" separatist attempts, which are backed by the US that repeatedly sold arms to the island and sent warships through the Straits.

Elsewhere around the world, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict marked the degradation of the global security environment.

A strong Chinese military supported by sufficient defense budget is vital to the strategic balance in the world and to the deterrence of conflict in the Asia-Pacific region, as it contributes to peace and stability in the region and the world, the expert said.

Experts pointed out that China's defense spending is closely related to the country's economic situation, and with the country recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is normal that the defense budget will also rise.

According to publicly available information, China's military expenditure takes about 1.3 percent of its GDP in recent years, and this is a very low figure compared with other major military powers, as well as the world average.

China's Defense Budget 2019-2023. Graphic:Global Times

China's Defense Budget 2019-2023. Graphic:Global Times

Restrained figure

Reuters reported that the US President Joe Biden in December 2023 signed into law the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, authorizing a record $886 billion in annual military spending, which is nearly four times the figure of China's defense budget in 2023.

The US' military expenditure as a share of GDP was 3.49 percent in 2023, and the guideline figure for NATO members is 2 percent, according to data published by NATO. These are also significantly higher than China's figure of approximately 1.3 percent.

Fu said that China's military spending increase is restrained, and the goal is to safeguard national sovereignty, territorial integrity and security, as well as peace and stability in the entire region.

Unlike the US, the top military spender in the world that pursues global hegemony, China pursues a national defense strategy that is defensive in nature, Fu stressed.

"China is not interested in engaging in an arms race with the US," Fu said.

China also regularly conducts UN peacekeeping missions, naval escorts in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia, as well as disaster relief and humanitarian aid operations, which are public security goods provided to the international community that build peace and stability.

Enough funding can also provide the foundation for the Chinese military to fulfill its international responsibilities and obligations, experts said.