TAIPEI — China's 2015 defense budget increase could reflect political strategy by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is pushing the military to swear loyalty to the Communist Party while he arrests military leaders on corruption charges, according to an expert.

China's official news service, Xinhua, announced that the defense increase was still the "lowest growth in five years as the country confronts mounting pressure in the face of an economic slowdown." The Chinese government is struggling with facing serious economic challenges as the government tries to control a debt crisis, a real estate bubble and massive corruption. The National People's Congress (NPC) announced that the government was lowering its growth target to 7 percent for 2015, the lowest in 15 years.

China raised the 2015 defense spending budget by 10.1 percent compared with 2014 to US $141.5 billion. compared to 2014. NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying made the announcement during the annual NPC in Beijing on March 4. This marks the 26th time China's defense budget has seen nominal double-digit budget increases since 1989.

This does not appear to be slowing military spending.

"In China, defense spending increases have become sacrosanct," said Richard Bitzinger, coordinator of the military transformations program at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. "I suppose the bigger surprise would've been if they had not increased the budget by so much."

Bitzinger acknowledges China faces tough economic conditions as things begin to cool off in the business and finance sectors begin to cool, but "no one supports defense cuts, from the hardliner to so-called reformer." Chinese defense budget increases have become the "new normal" and are "simply part of the political landscape."

Much of the Western media's attempts to relate access budget growth according to the annual economic growth are not appropriate, said Ching Chang, a research fellow at Taiwan's ROC Society for Strategic Studies and a former Taiwan naval officer.

No direct, logical relationship between military expenditure and economic growth exists, he said. A poor country might spend a great deal of money on arms because it has security concerns, whereas a wealthy country with no security threats might spend less, he said.

"It is also not reasonable to justify the growth of the defense expenditure by comparing the growth of the central government budget," as Fu Ying claims, he said. Resource allocation of the national budget on various items within the central government budget structure might simply reflect President Xi's Jinping's political plans. Some sections of the government can suffer as their resources are channeled to programs that meet Xi's political agenda, Chang said.

Bitzinger suggests that China's lack of transparency might not be hiding anything sinister, and that official figures are probably closer to the actual expenditures. Though China has might not been as forthcoming in recent years when it comes to breaking out defense spending for when it comes to services, research and development, and procurement, "I hardly see why they would hide anything," he said.

Over the past 15 years, China's military expenditures have risen more than 600 percent, after inflation, Bitzinger said. "And keep in mind, a $140-plus billion defense budget is pretty huge, more than enough to cover just about any requirements the PLA [People's Liberation Army] may have."

Chang said that the growth of the defense budget forces him to conclude that the Chinese military has raised more demands and the Chinese national authoritiesyalso responded with a certain level of support.

"It is no doubt a confirmation about the performance of the PLA so far. Nonetheless, to combat the corruption within the military community also indicates that zero tolerance of the illegal use of the defense resources" for personal use, he said. though the generous gold coffer has been granted by the political leadership for enhancing the defense capabilities."

Lastly, Chang said states that the growth of the defense budget should not use the inflation rate or consumer price index to justify its growth. The wWholesale pPrice iIndex suitable for the general public, in terms of structure, is very different with the military wWholesale pPrice iIndex. Materials consumed by the military may not necessarily be the same as merchandise consumed by the general public. It is therefore not reasonable to use the improper economic index that creates even more confusion and argument.

Email: wminnick@defensenews.com

Share: