Procurement: China Supercharges Military Spending


April 8, 2024: China’s defense spending has doubled in the last decade, helped along by a 7.2 percent increase for 2024. That means a defense budget of $231 billion a year. This makes thirty consecutive years that China has increased its defense spending. At the same time China has kept defense spending at 1.3 percent of whatever GDP it claims at the moment. In contrast, the current American budget is $817 billion. The United States has 1.3 million military personnel on active duty and about as many in the active reserves and state National Guard forces. China has two million soldiers on active duty and half a million in the reserves. An important difference between the Chinese and American military forces is that Chinese troops take an oath to defend the Chinese Communist Party while the American military oath is to defend the United States Constitution. These are cultural differences, with the Chinese putting more emphasis on maintaining political stability while trying to reduce the corruption that has been a problem with the Chinese military for thousands of years. The Chinese communists thought they had eliminated corruption, but they were wrong. Increased defense spending generated more corruption because more money spent on defense created more opportunities to steal. The government tries to keep the incidences of corruption quiet, as it reflects poorly on the government, the military and China. Information about new corruption scandals always becomes public because senior generals and procurement officials are dismissed whenever there is a major incidence of corruption in the procurement of military items.

Eventually it becomes known that new military weapons and equipment are not showing up. This means that, for all the money spent on defense, China has received few tanks, artillery, or modern combat aircraft. New warships are another matter. They appear but have many defects that are not readily visible. The navy also has problems recruiting enough officers and sailors to operate all these new warships. China can gather dozens of combat aircraft to fly near and around Taiwan in a threatening manner but cannot account for all the aircraft they are supposed to have.

China can muster enough aircraft to intimidate a neighbor but not enough to fight an actual war, let alone the required spare parts. This conforms with traditional Chinese strategy which emphasizes many threatening moves but no actual fighting. That is revered military wisdom for the Chinese and often works. Sun Tzu, a Chinese general and military theorist who lived 2,500 years ago and wrote The Art of War, which described and explained his military wisdom and advice. Sun Tzu's advice is regularly rediscovered and revived in China but only became known in the West during the 18th century when a French translation appeared in 1772. For hundreds of years before that The Art of War was required for officers in countries throughout East Asia. Koreans, Vietnamese, and Japanese were particularly eager to learn and practice the lessons offered in The Art of War. One of the most important of those lessons was how to win a war without fighting. This was actually more common in the West than most people realized.

The American Revolution was won by the Americans because commander-in-chief George Washington generally avoided battles with the British and concentrated on maintaining a large force of Americans troops. This strategy took advantage of the fact that Britain had a parliamentary form of government with a king or queen as head of state. Parliament controlled the money and how it was spent. Suppressing the American rebels was expensive and eventually Parliament decided it was too expensive and more trouble than it was worth. American diplomats in Europe, especially France, realized and eventually persuaded France to send some troops to the Americans rebels as well as a fleet of warships to provide support for the rebels. The French did not want to fight the British because that was expensive for both French and British. This French support was eventually enough to convince the British that the war against the American colonies was not worth the expense. The British forces withdrew and eventually a peace treaty was signed while the American colonies organized themselves into a new country, the United States of America. The war was won by Washington’s strategy of maintaining an army but not using it to fight the British. At the same time American diplomats cultivated powerful enemies of Britain, especially France.

Currently China is more at war with itself than with its neighbors and the United States. The Americans have fewer than 100,000 troops stationed in East Asia but do have major military bases in Japan and South Korea as well as access to bases in Singapore, the Philippines, and other east Asian nations. These forces are not there to threaten China but to make it difficult for China to threaten its neighbors, most of them allies of the Americans. This works because China prefers to be a threat than a participant in a war. The real threats to China are internal, where economic, political, and cultural problems are of greater concern than any external military threat.




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