China has announced its proposed military budget for 2023, expected to reach $208 billion, a significant increase from the previous year and a figure that indicates China’s economic power and strategic intent. India, China’s neighbouring geopolitical rival, has a defence budget for the current fiscal year of $73.65 billion, a fraction of China’s proposed budget. Despite this discrepancy, both nations compete for military dominance in Asia, particularly in controlling the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and strategic border regions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
According to many analysts, comparing the two countries, military spending must be done with care and nuance, as China’s military needs and goals are far more complex and diverse than India’s, given China’s status as a global superpower. Regardless, China’s proposed military budget is expected to have significant regional security and stability implications and will likely shape India’s defence strategy in the coming years. As tensions between the two nations continue to simmer, conflict watchers observe with bated breath to see how this military rivalry will unfold.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has expressed uncertainty regarding the accuracy of China’s spending figures. The United States estimated the Chinese military spending to be over four times higher than the officially announced budget in 2002, and a decade later, the US Department of Defense (DoD) noted that China’s actual military spending might now be around 1.1 to 2 times higher than stated in its official budget. However, experts believe that the latest budget figure, which sees China’s defence spending rise to 1.55 trillion yuan or roughly $225 billion, indicates growing military concerns over several issues. China’s defence spending has been growing steadily over the past few years, with a 6.6% increase in 2020, 6.8% in 2021, and 7.1% in 2022, indicating its strong intent to ramp up its military capabilities.
As previously mentioned, China faces various military challenges, including a contentious boundary dispute with India and its claim on Taiwan being challenged by Western powers as being dubious. Additionally, the US and many other countries have increased naval and air missions in the disputed South China Sea (SCS) near Chinese-occupied islands, while Japan has changed its post-second world war defence-only principle and is now piling up advanced offensive weapons. India’s defence budget of $72.6 billion in 2023-24 pales compared to China’s $225 billion, but India has outpaced China in targeted economic growth. China’s growth in military spending at 7% outpaces targeted economic growth of around 5%, while India’s defence budget has been projected to increase by 13% more than the previous year, far more than the projected GDP growth of less than 7% in the next financial year. However, India’s defence budget needs to allocate more to capital expenditure to buy new weapons, aircraft, and ships and create military infrastructure.