China announced (March 04) a 7.5% increase in its defence budget for 2010, breaking a double digit increase in declared military expenditure for a decade. At $ 78.25 billion (Yuan 532.11 billion), it is 1.4 per cent of the country’s GDP, and 6.3 percent of the national budget, Chinese spokesmen argue. For the first time in several years this figure has fallen below 10 per cent of the budget. Li Zhaoxing, a former Foreign Minister and spokesman for the 3rd plenum of the ongoing 11th Central Committee (CC) said that in addition to improving military response to a variety of security threats, some funds can be used to improve servicemen’s lives. It is a fact that in the course of improvement of people’s lives in general the military must have a slice of the pie. This has been happening since 1999 when the first major rise in China’s military budget was announced. China’s “millet and rifle” People’s Liberation Army has a known history of sacrifice and austerity. Since 1949 Mao Zedong’s people’s army has undergone many internal revolutions of forms and strategy. Following 1978 “reform and opening up” policy when China decided to follow a market oriented economic path and advocated different entities including some ministries earn their keep, the PLA went into business. Such business was not limited to foreign military trade, but was spread over a large area including farming, property, civilian products, hotels and restaurants, and even Karaoke bars and massage parlours. The PLA was getting rich, but money brought with it the usual evils. Corruption, non-military activities and huge pay gaps between the senior level and the lower levels. This led to demoralization at the fighting level. Premier Zhu Rongji had the unenviable task to “de-commercialize” the PLA. A challenging task, Zhu succeeded to a great extent. By 1999, he significantly defanged the PLA’s commercial teeth. But they had to be compensated. During the 60th anniversary of the PRC military parade last year, the women soldiers in their stylish uniform looked like models on a Parisian ramp!
-2- Compared to their Indian military counterparts the life styles of the PLA officers have generally been better. About ten years ago, a PLA officer who was in a delegation visiting New Delhi in summer, went back and wrote an article comparing the two armies. He said he was appalled to see Indian officers travelling to work and back at the headquarters either in non-air conditioned buses or on their own two-wheelers in the height of summer. Whereas, the Chinese officers could not conceive of travelling in a non-air conditioned vehicle. Mercedes was their preferred transport. This does not mean that a huge proportion of the PLA budget is spent on pay and perquisites. The drop in the increase in the 2010 budget is misleading. The real spending is, and always has been, much more than the declared figure. If the military arms and equipment displayed at the 60th anniversary parade last year is anything to go by, it will be evident that the declared budget could not cover them. And, the display, mainly meant for the people of the country, may be a glimpse of what is to come. Such developments require huge Research and Development (R&D) expenditure with a long gestation period. For example, the Chinese started the most modern nuclear submarine projects, the Type 093 and the 094 (which carries nuclear missiles), sometime in the late 1980s, and formalized in early 1990s. They came to the deployment stage around 2004-2006. Similar is the case of the aircraft carrier project. It was conceived by Admiral Liu Huaqing, then the first Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). A lot of money has already been invested including on the acquisition of the decommissioned Russian air craft carrier, the “Varyag”. It is being used to study the designs, especially the hull. Similar has been the case of the development of the fourth generation aircraft, the J-10 and its export model the JF-17. The long range missile, nuclear weapons advancement, research of space warfare are areas that require huge, long term investments. For example, the DF-31 ICBM and its separate version DF-31A, have emerged as a major challenge to the USA. It is not known if the DF-41 missile, a longer range missile has been scrapped or is still on the anvil. A new version of anti-ship missile to -3- penetrate USA’s anti-missile systems like the ship mounted Aegis system is at an advanced stage. A new exo-interceptor missile was tested recently. One very important area the Chinese are working on is space warfare. There have been signals from Beijing on again and off again. But close observers of China’s space programme have no doubts that the space warfare programme holds high priority in China’s defence planning. China’s shooting down of a defence satellite with a ground based missile in January 2007 is well known. But the scope that the PLA is looking at is much larger. Micro satellites and nano-satellites will have a much larger role to play in the future other than communications. These can be used as anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. Other things at work are space based weapons like laser weapons. In recent years, one of China’s major focus has been on asymmetric warfare. A very wide definition, its philosophy is no-contact warfare and as camouflaged as possible. This is known as the “Assassin’s Mace” weapon, where the assailant is invisible or deeply embedded in the opponent’s court (society as one of them). The methods of operation are many, but the common factors are stealth, depth of penetration and deniability. China’s cyber warfare capability has sharply improved, and in technological sophistication it is catching up fast with the USA and Russia. Recent cyber attacks from China have demonstrated all three characters – stealth, depth and deniability. It is fully integrated into informationalized warfare now, and needs grounds abroad for testing or real attacks. Other areas in which they are acquiring sophistication include radiation warfare, electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) weapons and laser weapons to confuse and debilitate the enemy’s network in battle field conditions. The military sectors not reflected in the PLA include the Second Artillery (nuclear weapons and missiles), space warfare, asymmetric warfare, and foreign military acquisition among others. It is, however, understandable that the budget of the PLA’s Second Department, the intelligence wing, is not reflected in the budget.
-4- In assessing the size of the budget, comparative money value and cost perspective inside China and the west also need to be taken into account. What $ 78.25 billion will get in China is far more than it will fetch in the west. Basically, the declared budget takes care of the total livelihood (except pensions) of the largest armed force in the world, including an array of conventional weapons, logistics and systems, and their infrastructure projects. In earlier years, the estimate made by the Pentagon, the SIPRI of Sweden and other varied between $160 to $220 billion. In looking at the 2010 budget, it would not be unsafe to estimate that an increasing amount of money is going into space R&D and asymmetric warfare. It would be safe to assume that the real military budget of China in 2010 would not be less $180 billion dollars at least. One word of caution here. In most international experts’ writings on China’s military, the comparison is made with the USA or the USA and NATO as a whole. The Australians are lately waking up to this, and Japan has a fair idea. Both Japan and Australia would be covered by the USA in the remote case of a Chinese attack. But what about countries like India which fought a limited border war with China in 1962? True, the Chinese realize that the new India is no longer the India of 1962. Two Chinese colonels wrote a book “The Next War with India”, which was seen in 1993. Brilliant strategists, the authors saw a future war with India will not be fought only on the ground, but in all the three dimensions – ground, air and sea. It is, however, imperative that India’s military planners add three more dimensions in their strategic calculations. One, which can be noted as a half dimension, is China’s plans to produce medium to long term missiles with very high yielding conventional warheads. This can cause devastating destruction and not be called a nuclear war. -5- The next is China’s nuclear doctrine. China’s nuclear doctrine is shifting from “no first use” to use against the intention or preparation to attack of a nuclear equipped power. China’s strike will depend on their perception of an imminent attack. Today, India is a nuclear equipped power with the nuclear capable Agni-III missile with a range of 3,500 kms. The third is China’s naval power projection in the Indian Ocean. China already has two naval ships patrolling the Somalian coast against piracy. China’s PLA Navy has now offered the European Union naval escorts of food shipment to Somalia with added deployment. This could start within a month. Finally, China is beginning to explore naval/military bases in littoral countries of the Indian Ocean. They can, at any time, avail of the Gwadar deep Sea Port in Pakistan which they built. Of the three services, the Chinese navy has been getting the biggest slice of the military budget. India, therefore, needs to look at China realistically, and tailor its military strategy and diplomacy accordingly in the region. A chased after naval port by China in Bangladesh should be high on this agenda.
(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy is an eminent analyst based in New Delhi.Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)