China drops ‘peaceful reunification’ reference to Taiwan amid tensions

Published March 6, 2024
Beijing: Workers replenish Chinese President Xi Jinping’s teacups during the opening session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People, on Tuesday.—AFP
Beijing: Workers replenish Chinese President Xi Jinping’s teacups during the opening session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People, on Tuesday.—AFP

BEIJING: China will boost its defence spending by 7.2 per cent this year, fuelling a military budget that has more than doubled under President Xi Jinping’s 11 years in office as Beijing hardens its stance on Taiwan, according to official reports on Tuesday.

The increase mirrors the rate presented in last year’s budget and again comes in well above the government’s economic growth forecast for this year. China also officially adopted tougher language against Taiwan as it released the budget figures, dropping the mention of “peaceful reunification” in a government report delivered by Premier Li Qiang at the opening of the National People’s Congress (NPC), on Tuesday.

Tensions have risen sharply in recent years over Taiwan, the democratically ruled island that China claims as its own, and elsewhere across East Asia as regional military deployments rise.

Li Mingjiang, a defence scholar at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, said that despite China’s struggling economy, Taiwan is a major consideration in Beijing’s defence spending.

Tokyo urges greater openness from Beijing, speaks of serious international concerns over defence spending

“China is showing that in the coming decade it wants to grow its military to the point where it is prepared to win a war if it has no choice but to fight one,” Li said. Since Xi became president and commander-in-chief more than a decade ago, the defence budget has ballooned to 1.67 trillion yuan ($230 billion) this year from 720 billion yuan in 2013.

The percentage rise in military spending has consistently outpaced the annual domestic economic growth target during his time in office. This year the growth target for 2024 is about 5pc, similar to last year’s goal, according to the government report.

The defence budget is closely watched by China’s neighbours and the United States, who are wary of Beijing’s strategic intentions and the development of its armed forces.

Based on data from the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), this year’s budget marks the 30th consecutive year of Chinese defence spending increases.

Japanese government spokesperson Yoshimasa Hayashi urged greater openness from Beijing, warning of serious international concerns. China’s continuous military spending increases without sufficient transparency were “the greatest strategic challenge ever to ensure the peace and stability of Japan and the international community and strengthen international order”, Hayashi said in Tokyo.

South Korea’s defence ministry declined to comment. Australia’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. James Char, a security scholar at the RSIS, said that despite the defence budget’s outpacing GDP growth, it had remained at about 1.3pc of overall gross domestic product in the last decade and had put no stress on the national coffers.

“Of course, the country’s longer-term economic fortunes will determine whether this can be sustained going forward,” Char said.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2024

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