China Tensions Fuel Acceleration in Military Spending in Asia

Frontier Guards Train In Altay

Chinese soldiers undergo training in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Defense spending in the Asia Pacific region is likely to increase due to China's military growth and territorial tensions.

Photographer: ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images
  • Arms exports from China rise at fastest pace in world
  • Pakistan, Bangladesh drive gain in demand for Chinese weapons

China’s military growth combined with heightened territorial tensions is likely to propel the Asia Pacific region to the top rank of military spending by the end of the decade, according to a report by IHS Jane’s.

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The Asia Pacific will account for one in three dollars spent on defense by the early 2020s, up from one in five in 2010, according to the London-based military publisher. While the U.S. remains the globe’s biggest purveyor of weapons, China led growth in major arms exports in the 2011-2015 period, with weapons sales rising 88 percent from the previous five-year span, another report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute showed.

“Rising tensions in APAC have seen a long overdue process of military modernization move up the political agenda in a number of countries,” Craig Caffrey, principal analyst at IHS Jane’s wrote in the report. “The Philippines, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam are all following China’s lead and we see no sign of this trend coming to an end.”

By 2020, total military spending in the Asia Pacific region is expected to reach $533 billion a year from $435 billion in 2015, IHS Jane’s said. In 2015, nine of the 20 fastest-growing defense budgets were found in the Asia Pacific, up from seven a year earlier. In contrast, the number of Middle East-North Africa nations topping the list fell to five from seven.

China is benefiting from that increased defense spending. China’s share of global arms exports accounted for 5.9 percent in 2011-2015, up from 3.6 percent in 2006 to 2010, Sipri said. In Asia, those gains have been driven by demand from Pakistan, which accounted for 35 percent of China’s weapon sales, followed by Bangladesh and Myanmar, at 20 percent and 16 percent respectively. China supplied arms to 37 countries in 2011-2015.

The U.S. market share rose to 33 percent in the latest five-year period, up from 29 percent previously. Russia’s share increased to 25 percent from 22 percent, the Sipri report said. China now ranks as the world’s third-largest provider, overtaking France, which has 5.6 percent in the latest period, down from 7.1 percent previously.

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