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Asian powers double defense spending in a decade

Matthew Pennington Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Asia’s top powers have doubled defense spending in the past decade, spurred by the explosion in military expenditure by China, new research shows.

While troop numbers have remained constant, overall annual spending has grown to $224 billion in 2011, according to a report released Monday by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Spending particularly accelerated in the second half of the decade.

The research covers China, Japan, India, South Korea and Taiwan, which account for some 87 percent of Asia’s defense spending.

China’s share of the total spending has risen from about 20 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2011. The report’s authors noted that the official figures they cite likely underestimate how much China actually spends, perhaps by a margin of around 60 percent.

Only the United States spends more on defense: about $670 billion this year, more than double the amount spent in 2001.

China’s lightning economic rise and elevation as a military power has unnerved its neighbors and drawn more attention from the United States, long the pre-eminent force in the Asia-Pacific. China eclipsed U.S. ally Japan as the top defense spender in the region in 2005. China’s official defense spending in 2011 was $89.9 billion, followed by Japan with $58.2 billion, and India with $37 billion.

“There’s no question that the rise of China is in part responsible for the growth in defense spending” in the region, said David Berteau, director of the center’s international security program. He added that countries were also looking at the increased capabilities of their other neighbors.

But Berteau said it wasn’t comparable to the kind of arms race seen during the Cold War.

“The levels of increases and concentration of spending is nothing like we saw in the 1950s and 1960s, or even the 1970s and 1980s, between East and West,” he said.

For the report, expenditure in each country was converted into dollars at 2011 value. It found China’s defense spending has been growing annually at a rate of 13.4 percent — three times or more as fast the other countries. Taiwan, which has cut its forces, grew at the lowest rate, 1.8 percent.

Meanwhile, defense spending in European countries has dropped and force levels have reduced markedly.

Asia’s elevated global role and economic growth, and China’s military buildup has prompted the Obama administration to devote more military resources to the region. Berteau said he expects whoever wins the Nov. 6 U.S. presidential election will continue that trend.

The report says the acceleration in Asian defense spending in the second half of the past decade could augur continued significant increases in the years ahead. It noted India, Japan and South Korea were all in the process of procuring high-end fighter jets.

But future spending will hinge on political and economic circumstances.

Guy Ben-Ari, an analyst at the center focusing on the defense industry, said that while regional economic growth is expected to tail off, an uncertain security situation in the Asia-Pacific and maritime territorial disputes could drive greater defense spending.

Conflicting claims to islands and resources in the seas of East Asia have heightened tensions between China and Japan, as well as some of China’s Southeast Asian neighbors. However, the expansion of economic ties across the Taiwan Strait has reduced tensions between China and the self-governing island of Taiwan, diminishing the prospect of a conflict there.

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