The national flag guards march from the Monument to the People's Heroes towards the national flag-raising post at the start of the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in Beijing, capital of China, on October 1, 2019 (XINHUA)
A draft budget report submitted to China's top legislature has unveiled the country's planned military spending for this year. In 2021, China's defense budget will be around 1.35 trillion yuan (about $200 billion), up 6.8 percent from last year.
Is China's military spending too hefty? Is the figure growing too fast? Is the so-called "Chinese military threat," as hyped by some Western politicians and media outlets, well-grounded?
The answer is no.
Quarter of U.S. defense budget
A country's defense expenditure is determined by various factors, including the demands of national defense, the size of its economy and its defense policy.
China is the world's second-largest economy and the most populous country with a vast land area. It has a great length of land border and complex maritime security environment. And yet, China's defense budget is around one-quarter of the U.S. figure.
Factoring in the country's vast population of 1.4 billion, China's planned defense expenditure per capita in 2021 will be about $140.
In sharp contrast, the defense budget of the United States for the 2021 fiscal year is $740.5 billion, which makes for a per capita expenditure of about $2,230, around 15 times the Chinese figure.
When measured in terms of the proportion of GDP spent on the defense budget, China's military spending is undoubtedly at a low level.
A Chinese government white paper compared the average defense expenditures of various countries. As a percentage of GDP, from 2012 to 2017, China's average defense expenditure was about 1.3 percent. The figures for other major countries were: the United States about 3.5 percent; India 2.5 percent; the United Kingdom 2.0 percent; France 2.3 percent.
When calculated based on other standards, including as a ratio of spending to government expenditure, China's military spending is at a lower level than other major countries, according to the white paper.
Military medical staff airlifted by eight large transport planes of the air force of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) arrive at Tianhe International Airport, to support coronavirus fight in Wuhan in Hubei Province, central China, on February 2, 2020 (XINHUA)
Since dropping to 7.6 percent in 2016, China's annual defense budget growth rate has remained under 10 percent for six consecutive years.
Observed over a longer period, China's defense expenditure as a percentage of GDP has been falling from a peak of 5.43 percent in 1979, and has remained below 2 percent for the past three decades. Also on a clear downward trend is its share of government expenditure.
In terms of usage, China's defense input is assigned to sectors mainly including personnel, training and sustainment, and equipment.
This year's increase in budget will be mainly spent on supporting major projects included in the military's five-year development plan, upgrading weaponry and equipment, stepping up the transformation of military training, improving the wellbeing of service personnel and supporting small-unit level development, according to Wu Qian, a Chinese military spokesperson.
"China's defense expenditure is reasonable and appropriate. In fact, it is barely enough for meeting the needs of safeguarding the country's sovereignty, security and development interests," He Lei, a national lawmaker and former deputy head of the Academy of Military Sciences, told Xinhua.
Anita Kiki Gebe, deputy joint special representative of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), awards UN peace medal to a soldier of the 2nd China Medium Utility Helicopter Unit (CMUHU02) in El-Fashir, Sudan, on July 17, 2019 (XINHUA)
Never seeking hegemony, expansion, spheres of influence
Never seeking hegemony, expansion or spheres of influence is the distinctive feature of China's national defense in the new era.
The country has never initiated a war or taken an inch of foreign land since the founding of the People's Republic of China.
By contrast, during its 240-plus years of history, the United States has only experienced less than 20 years when it was not at war. The country owns hundreds of military bases around the world, and has sent ships and planes across the world to flex its muscles.
Since 2001, the United States has illegally launched wars and military operations against Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and several other countries, at a cost of more than $6.4 trillion, resulting in over 800,000 deaths and tens of millions displaced.
A new research by anti-war group CODEPINK reveals that the United States and its allies have dropped at least 326,000 bombs and missiles on countries across the globe since 2001.
The real threat to world peace is quite evident.
"For quite some time, the United States has been willfully interfering in other countries' internal affairs in the name of democracy and human rights," said State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a press conference on Sunday. "This has created lots of trouble in the world and, in some cases, turbulence and conflict."
The U.S. side has repeatedly sent warships and aircraft to the South China Sea for all kinds of military drills and close-in reconnaissance, posing serious challenges to the Chinese military in safeguarding national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and maritime rights and interests.
Given such facts, the increase of China's defense expenditure is based on practical considerations.
China's homeland security risks and challenges should not be overlooked, said Wu Qian, adding that land territorial disputes are yet to be completely resolved and disputes still exist over the territorial sovereignty of some islands and reefs, as well as maritime demarcation.
"The world is not entirely a peaceful one, so national defense must be strong," said Wu.
Committed to peaceful development, China has also actively assumed the responsibilities of a major country and has safeguarded world peace with concrete actions. It is the second-largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping budget and the largest troop contributing country among the permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Since 1990, China's armed forces have sent more than 40,000 peacekeepers on UN peacekeeping missions. They have faithfully performed their duties and made a positive contribution to world peace and common development.
"China's moderate and steady growth of defense spending poses no threat to any other country and is an anchor of stability for world peace," said He Lei.