China takes cue from US and gears up for World War 3

China already spends more on its military than any country in the world except the United States. Now, as defense budgets at the Pentagon and in many NATO countries shrink, China’s People’s Liberation Army is gearing up for a surge in new funding, according to a new report.

China will spend $148 billion on its military this year, up from $139.2 billion in 2013, according to IHS Jane’s, a defense industry consulting and analysis company. The United States spends far more – a forecast $574.9 billion this year – but that is down from $664.3 billion in 2012 after budget cuts slashed spending. By next year China will spend more on defense than Britain, Germany and France combined, according to IHS. By 2024, it will spend more than all of Western Europe, it estimates.

The surge in weapons spending by Beijing – military outlays this year are set to be a third higher than in 2009 – has come in tandem with an escalation in tensions with its neighbors over longstanding territorial disputes. Vietnam and the Philippines have overlapping claims with China to islands and shoals in the South China Sea. Japan and China have been at loggerheads over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

The extra spending has bought some flashy hardware. In 2012 China commissioned its first aircraft carrier – the Liaoning – built from the hull of an uncompleted ship ordered by the Soviet navy in the 1980s. In 2011 a Chinese-made aircraft with stealth radar-evading capabilities flew on a test flight as Robert M. Gates, then the United States defense secretary, was in Beijing on an official visit.

Yet the Chinese military – controlled by the ruling Communist Party, not the government – has been plagued by corruption scandals that may sap its fighting effectiveness. Seven decades ago, Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell of the United States was frustrated by corrupt Chinese generals who were often more interested in lining their pockets than fighting the Japanese. Last month the Chinese magazine Caixin detailed allegations about the extravagant lifestyle of Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, a deputy head of the People’s Liberation Army’s General Logistics Department. Among the items confiscated from his villa complex were a gold washbasin and a gold statue of Mao Zedong, Caixin reported. General Gu also allegedly owned 10 homes in central Beijing, where apartment prices regularly top $1 million.

One military analyst, Ian Easton of the Project 2049 Institute in Arlington, Virginia, believes that China’s military is far less capable than its large military budget would suggest. Last month he wrote that the P.L.A. probably wouldn’t be able to effectively attack Taiwan – the prosperous, self-ruled island claimed by the mainland. In addition, Chinese troops lack real combat experience and some of the P.L.A.’s marquee projects, including the aircraft carrier, are plagued by technical problems.

Chinese pilots are using the Liaoning – its overhaul easy to monitor over the years from the fire escape at an Ikea furniture store in the northeastern Chinese port of Dalian – as a training platform to learn aircraft carrier operations. The United States Navy, which has had aircraft carriers in its fleet since before World War II, currently has 10 active nuclear-powered carriers, all larger than the Liaoning.

China is set to release its military spending for 2013 and its forecast for this year at the annual session of the National People’s Congress next month in Beijing. The IHS figures may differ from official figures because they take into account items including research and development spending and pension costs that may not be reflected in China’s own estimates.

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