China drops mention of ‘peaceful’ from Taiwan ambition as it increases military spending by 7.2%

China’s military expenditure will rise to an estimated £181.7bn

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Tuesday 05 March 2024 10:36 GMT
Related: China holds live-fire military drills near India border

China on Tuesday announced it would increase its military budget by 7.2 per cent, marking the biggest jump in five years, amid worsening ties with its neighbours and growing aggression towards Taiwan.

Beijing appeared to harden its stance towards Taiwan in an annual finance ministry report, where it called for “reunification” with the self-governed island, adding that it wants to “be firm” in doing so. Previous reports had stated the goal of “peaceful reunification” with the island.

China, which maintains Taiwan is part of its territory, has not ruled out the use of military force to reclaim the island if necessary.

The island’s defence minister said earlier on Tuesday that Taiwan’s armed forces would increase the number of missile drills they hold this year.

China announced its military spending for 2024 would rise to 1.67 trillion yuan (£181.7bn), according to the annual finance ministry report released at the National People's Congress.

China's defence budget in 2023 was set at 1.5 trillion yuan (£177.1bn), making it the world's second-highest behind the US. Joe Biden late last year signed a £698bn defence bill to boost its military spending.

Beijing's defence budget is closely watched by its critical neighbours and the US, who are wary about China's strategic intentions and the development of its armed forces.

Tension has been rife in the Asian subcontinent over China's rapidly rising aggression towards self-governed Taiwan and Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea, which has been routinely condemned by its neighbours, including Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has set a 2027 deadline for the military to become a “world-class force”, overcoming the mounting pressure to eradicate corruption from the military. At least 1.73 million corruption cases were registered in 2023 despite Mr Xi's war on graft, according to Nikkei Asia.

The Chinese Communist Party last year fired defence minister General Li Shangfu and two Rocket Force generals without any explanation.

China has the largest armed forces in the world by active duty military personnel, with over two million active soldiers and 510,000 in reserve. The nation has maintained a single-digit growth in its annual defence budget since 2016.

The official budget figure announced Tuesday at the opening session of the rubber-stamp legislature's annual meeting is considered by many foreign experts to be only a fraction of spending by the People's Liberation Army.

Lou Qinjian, spokesperson for the second session of the 14th NPC, told Global Times that compared with major military powers such as the US, China's defence spending was "quite low, whether as a percentage of GDP or in terms of per capita and per-serviceperson".

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