China Boosts Defence Budget Amid 'Security Risks'

China says an accelerated defence budget is intended to protect the country from "security risks".

Li Keqiang, Premier of the People's Republic of China, made reference to a 2021 military commitment equating to $208.47bn at the start of the annual National People’s Congress meeting on Friday – although many believe that figure to be under-reported.

The defence spend is up 6.8% from 2020, a trend set to continue in coming years.

Last month, before the latest announcement, a report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) placed China second in the world's defence budget rankings, hitting about a quarter of the US figure.

"We will boost military training and preparedness across the board, make overall plans for responding to security risks in all areas and for all situations, and enhance the military's strategic capacity to protect the sovereignty, security and development interests of our country," Premier Li said.

There were no specific details on improvements to technology and China's "defence mobilisation system" during the state-of-the-nation address.

Meia Nouwens, Senior Fellow for Chinese Defence Policy and Military Modernisation at IISS, said: "Clearly there is an ambition for the PLA (People's Liberation Army) to not just defend itself but defend its interests further away from home over time.

"That's really something that I think we'll see progress around to 2035 and beyond, but for the moment, of course, the PLA's core concerns are to modernise at home, to build up their capabilities, to become more combat-ready and also, of course, to deal with core territorial issues."

The US has recently set up a China task force and deployed a Carrier Strike Group to the heavily contested South China Sea region, where Chinese strategy has involved the occupation of islands through newly built military bases.

The US Navy deployed to the South China Sea in January to "ensure freedom of the seas" (Picture: US Department of Defense).
The US Navy deployed to the South China Sea in January to "ensure freedom of the seas" (Picture: US Department of Defense).

China has criticised the US for "flexing military muscle" through similar missions – America allied with multiple nations competing for the waterway, which is a vital trade route.

Tensions with Taiwan, Hong Kong and India are also likely to be on the list of China's perceived threats.

Alongside overt aggression in cyber and other domains, international states opposed to Chinese strategy say it has become one of the largest players in the 'grey zone' between war and peace.

Experts suggest China and Russia have consistently operated in this space, creating unfair advantages with minimal trace and repercussion. 

The defence budget did not offer a breakdown on where exactly the military funding would be spent, as questions emerge over where China draws the line between military and civilian budget spending.

"We don't really know how certain lines of spending work – what's calculated in the defence budget and what isn't," adds Ms Nouwens.

"In the past, at IISS, we would estimate an additional 33% added on top of that original budget."

This marks the sixth year in a row for a single-digit increase in the area, although higher than the 6.6% predicted last year in the face of the COVID crisis.

An annual economic growth target of more than 6% was deemed an underestimation by analysts, while China's reported that the military accounts for around 1.3% of its Gross Domestic Product.

NATO nations are set a defence spending target of 2%, and China maintains its military ambitions are demonised by other countries.

Cover image: PA.

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