'The Chinese being focussed more seawards is definitely better for India with China being the looming threat along our land borders,' says Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd).
The Chinese defence budget for 2017 was presented at the 5th session of the 12th National People's Congress on March 5. It caters for an increase of 7 percent as compared to the previous year's allocation.
Though apparently not a huge jump, in terms of gross allocations for defence, the total value is 1.02 trillion yuan ($135 billion).
India's defence budget witnessed a 6.2 percent increase, which amounts to $52.2 billion.
The Chinese are going to spend over two-and-a-half times that of our defence expenditure.
The Chinese defence budget needs to be viewed in the context of China's global ambitions. Undoubtedly, under President Xi Jinping, they have undertaken the most ambitious defining of their geo-political objectives.
Of primary importance to China is its dominance over the South China Sea.
China's burgeoning economy and huge manufacturing sector requires an unending supply of raw materials to drive its engines.
With claim lines covering almost the entire waters of the South China Sea, China, de facto, lays a claim to the sea bed mineral wealth of the entire South China Sea.
With the South China Sea being Beijing's greater focus, the 7 percent increase in its defence budget is likely to be channelled majorly for the PLA Navy.
The Chinese are also into creating islands in the South China Sea, and positioning military hardware and personnel on these islands.
Beijing does not seem to have been deterred by The Hague Tribunal's unfavourable ruling in the case initiated by the Philippines.
Though the court clearly ruled in the Philippines' favour, Rodrigo Duterte winning the Filippino presidential election has been a bonus for China.
The unpredictable Duterte's pro-Chinese leanings and anti-US riling has given the Chinese a breather.
The Chinese have problems with most nations in the South China Sea.
Unlike their land border disputes with neighbouring countries that the Chinese have mostly resolved, the borders along the high seas and the islands therein remain contentious.
China's military reforms aim to make the PLA a more maritime-oriented force.
The Chinese being focussed more seawards is definitely better for India with China being the looming threat along our land borders.
In this context, it would be pertinent to recall that our response in the last couple of cases of major incursions by the PLA have been in strength, thereby displaying adequate aggressive intent to perhaps convince the Chinese of the possibility of violent repercussions in the future.
The Chinese military reforms that the 2017 defence budget needs to address, includes fielding a lean, slim, techno savvy army.
The Chinese should be demobilising 300,000 personnel by end 2017, thereby finding the resources for force modernisation.
However, a technology-driven force requires huge injection of funds for modernisation. The budget, hence, has to absorb the cost of demobilisation and technology upgrade of operational capabilities.
A mere 7 percent increase is definitely not enough for the entire wish list that must go along with such objectives.
It would be interesting to have a look at President Donald Trump's defence budget for the US armed forces at this point.
Trump seeks an unprecedented 10 percent or an $54 billion increase for the Pentagon.
The increase will peg the Pentagon budget at $603 billion, and be offset, to some extent, by reduced budgets for the state department, the environmental protection agency and other non-defence areas.
In effect, it will also substantially reduce American aid to a lot of countries.
In comparison to the US budget, the Chinese will spend less than a third of the Americans. For the Chinese it is the second year in running that they opted for a single digit increase in the defence budget after a steady run of double digit increase for many years. Its budget was increased by 7.6 percent last year.
In terms of GDP the Chinese would spend 1.3 percent.
India's defence budget works out to 1.62 percent of GDP approximately.
The US spent 3.3 percent of its GDP on defence in 2015.
The European Union countries are expected to spend 2 percent of their GDP though a host of them have not done so as yet.
China's defence budget is also known for its opacity. Expenditure likely to be incurred on the development of Gwadar port, in Pakistan and on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which have a huge impact on Chinese defence capabilities in the years ahead, would obviously not be reflected in defence expenditure plans.
According to the Global Times, the daily newspaper that reflects Beijing's views, China's priority will be safeguarding national security, sovereignty and maritime rights.
Maritime rights, apparently refers to its claims in the South China Sea. Fu Ying, the official spokesperson who broke the news of the budget, confirmed the aspect of maritime rights further, when she specified the Chinese objective as being, '... In particular, we need to guard against outside meddling in the disputes.'
The declining trend in Chinese defence allocations on a year on year basis is quite in tune with the decline in its GDP growth rates.
A lot depends on the US posture in the South China Sea. The Chinese are bound to enhance defence funding should the American build-up continue.
Further, a Chinese spike in defence spending would only lead to expenditure hikes of the South China Sea countries.
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