Chinese Navy (Photo/81.cn)
The increase in China's military expenditure, especially for the navy, is aimed at safeguarding the country's fast expanding overseas interests and is a response to the unstable security situation in the Asia-Pacific region, Chinese experts said.
A recent Reuters report claimed that US President Donald Trump's unpredictablility is an opportunity for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to ramp up its military capabilities. It claimed that China's military expenditure in 2016 reached more than $100 billion, almost double the amount of Japan and South Korea combined.
"It's opportunity in crisis," a Beijing-based Asian diplomat told Reuters of China's recent naval moves. "China fears Trump will turn on them eventually as he's so unpredictable and it's getting ready."
But Chu Yin, associate professor at the University of International Relations, said, "China's huge input on the military, especially on the navy, began a long time ago."
China's rapid military development is a recurrent trend with the country's rising economic power, and is entirely legitimate and reasonable, Chu said. "It doesn't need Trump as an excuse."
With an expansion in China's global footprint, the mission for the Chinese military has changed though the fundamental policy on national defense hasn't changed. "How can China protect millions of overseas Chinese and huge amounts of overseas investment and projects worth billions of US dollars without a powerful navy?" Chu asked.
According to data from the China National Tourism Administration, since 2015, Chinese citizens made more than 120 million overseas trips annually.
The Chinese government and the PLA are responsible for protecting these people, so they have to develop the capability to match this situation, Chu said.
The global security situation has worsened in recent years, and China has conducted several successful evacuation missions for Chinese nationals, such as in Libya and Yemen, and such missions require the PLA navy to have reliable capability on a global scale, Chu added.
Additionally, China is currently the world's largest trading nation, so the country is heavily reliant on free trade, and the world also needs to trade with China, Chu said.
China National Radio reported on January 12 that China's overseas investment in 2016 has reached $221 billion, surging 246 percent compared with 2015.
"So the Chinese navy has to gain enough ability to protect those key trade routes around the globe," Chu said.
President Xi Jinpinghas set higher standards for the PLA, and "honestly, the Chinese military hasn't met some of those standards yet, and that's why we have military reform and the budget for national defense will continue to rise," said Song Zhongping, a military expert who used to serve in the Second Artillery Corps (now called the Rocket Force).
"For example, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, as part of the One Belt and One Road initiative, requires a large and advanced navy, because this 'Road' covers the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean," Song said.
According to the Reuters report, "The PLA navy is likely to secure significant new funding in China's upcoming defense budget as China seeks to check US dominance of the high seas and step up its own projection of power around the globe."
Checking US dominance of the high seas is not China's goal, and China's motivation to build a powerful navy is clear and reasonable, and that is to protect our own interests, Song stressed.
"We can't expect US aircraft carriers to protect these huge interests for us," he added.
Yin Zhuo, a rear admiral and a senior researcher at the PLA Navy Equipment Research Center, told China Central Television that in order to protect China's sovereignty and national interests, the PLA navy at least needs five to six aircraft-carriers to maintain presence in specific regions.
In addition, an anonymous PLA air force officer told the Global Times, "Due to the US' 'Pivot to Asia' strategy since the Obama era, the possibility of military conflict is increasing in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan Straits, and East and South China seas, so there is no reason for us not to increase the defense budget."