Beijing announced in early March that it plans to boost China’s defense budget by 17.8 percent in the coming year. That fairly hefty increase continues a pattern of double-digit hikes over the past decade. Both the United States and China’s neighbors in East Asia are expressing growing uneasiness about the trend.
Far more troubling, however, is Beijing’s continuing dishonesty about the actual extent of its military spending. According to the Chinese government, the new defense budget will be $44.9 billion. However, China’s official defense budget omits several pertinent items. In a moment of unusual candor in 2005, defense-ministry official Gen. Cao Gangchuan admitted that China excludes “some funding for the development of equipment” from its budget. The omitted categories are actually far more extensive and include various weapons purchases, as well as most military research and development expenditures.
Admittedly, all communist regimes tend to lie as a matter of principle. That habit may have persisted in China even as the officially communist system there has adopted economic policies more attuned to Milton Friedman than to Karl Marx. Moreover, having misrepresented the actual extent of military spending for years, the Chinese government would find it awkward (at the very least) suddenly to offer accurate figures.