China’s Military Budget Spurs Debate Over the Taiwan Strait

Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense announced on March 11 that China’s real defense budget is most likely to be two to three times more than the reported amount from the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (China Times, March 11). Last week China announced that its 2008 military spending would jump 17.6 percent over the 2007 figure to $59 billion. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense estimates that the true figure actually ranges from $110 billion to $170 billion. The ministry claims that such items like research in technology, arms sales and purchases, outsourcing done by the defense industry and the budget for the military police were not included in the national defense budget.

In a weekly briefing held by the Ministry of Defense on developments concerning the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Colonel Gong Chien-hua, an intelligence expert in the deputy chief of staff’s office, said that according to the ministry’s intelligence, on March 5, Liao Xilong, director of the PLA General Logistics Department, stated that the 17 percent increase is required to off set rising costs in living and commodity prices, and for the PLA’s on-going informatization campaign (China Times, March 11).

In a commentary published on China Daily, Luo Yuan, a researcher with the PLA Academy of Military Sciences and a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, argues that the PLA is undergoing a transformation of “turning traditional armed forces into an information-centric military” and such a transformation “costs much more than building a mechanized one,” as one of the major reasons for the boost in China’s defense spending (China Daily, March 11).

While chairing the meeting for the national representatives of the PLA at the National People’s Congress, chairman of the Central Military Commission and president, Hu Jintao, emphasized that strengthening the PLA capabilities to win a war under “informatization” conditions is central to the mission of the PLA (Ming Pao, March 11).

According to the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense, China’s massive investment in its military budget in recent years, its vigorous development of transregional war fighting capabilities, its purchase and research of advanced weapons, the PLA’s capabilities have clearly surpassed what is needed in a Taiwan confrontation, and poses a serious risk to the military balance in the Asia-Pacific (China Times, March 11).

In similar news, at the Research Commission on Security hearing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan, Nobushige Takamizawa, director general of the Japanese Defense Ministry’s Defense Policy Bureau, said that a military crisis in the Taiwan Strait would be a matter of concern for Japan’s own national security. While responding to a question concerning the possible government response in the event of a Taiwan Strait emergency, Nobushige said that the situation is “not [merely] a matter of the Japan-U.S. security cooperation, but also a matter of Japan’s national security” (The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 14).