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China’s territorial ambitions driving up Asia’s defense spending
February 12, 2016 Blog

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Asia was the only region in the world to see increased military spending in 2015, largely due to solid expansion of China’s military budget, according to the Military Balance 2016 report.

     The latest edition of the annual publication on global defense capabilities and economics was released Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a U.K. think tank. It shows that overall defense spending around the globe declined 4.2% in 2015.

China fuels Asia spending

Bucking the trend, military expenditures in Asia went up, led by an 11% rise in China’s military budget. The Philippines, which has been experiencing rising tensions with China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, also recorded a solid increase at 10%.

     But China dominated the region’s military spending, with its roughly $356 billion budget accounting for some 40% of the total for Asia. Beijing has continued to systematically upgrade the country’s military hardware to higher-performance varieties, and its army, air force and navy have been operating energetically, according to the report’s analysis.

     Military Balance 2016 also mentioned China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea in 2015, suggesting that those dredged islands, equipped with runways and radar towers, may be used for air defense in the future. In addition, it referred to China’s repeated incursions into waters near the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands — claimed by China as the Diaoyu — in the East China Sea, pointing out that “the military dimension of the Asia-Pacific’s international politics was as prominent as ever” in 2015.

Growing terrorism, falling defense spending

Another focus of the annual report is the fight against terrorism — in particular, the Islamic State militant group. Bringing up the Paris terrorist attacks and the downing of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai Peninsula, it noted that sharp growth in terrorism has exacerbated critical situations, such as the refugee crisis in Europe, and regional conflicts.

     At the same time, the report pointed out insufficient financial resources at many countries to fight terrorism. Military spending in Europe fell 12% in 2015. Just four members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization spent 2% or more of their gross domestic product for defense, a measure prescribed by the organization.

     The U.S. will continue its pivot toward Asia, and its Department of Defense may seek to bolster the country’s defense capabilities by utilizing big data analysis, robotics and other technologies through closer cooperation with information technology firms, in the face of continuing modernization of the Chinese military, the report says.