Singapore: Increased military spending by China and India is forcing other Asia-Pacific countries to modernise their armed forces despite the severe impact of the global financial crisis, experts say.Data from defence research firm Jane’s Information Group estimates total military spending in the region rising year-on-year — from about 220 billion dollars in 2008 to 239 billion dollars this year and higher still in 2010.
Those figures include external defence and homeland security and cover a region stretching from Central Asia to Australia.
“India and China are forcing the countries to think very hard strategically about their defence capabilities,” Jon Grevatt, a regional defence specialist with Jane’s, told AFP from Bangkok.
He said that although money is tight across the region, “the pressure of not spending on defence is very high due to the considerable military influence that China and India are assuming in this part of the world.”
Even countries not bordering China and India are upgrading their arsenals.
Singapore, despite suffering its worst-ever economic slowdown, will increase its defence spending by an annual 6.0 percent to 7.53 billion dollars in the new fiscal year starting April, the government says.
The city-state’s immediate neighbours, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are all poised to follow suit, Grevatt said.
“What you can see in Southeast Asia is something like a mini arms race with capabilities such as submarines and armoured vehicles being acquired,” Grevatt added.
Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said spending across Asia “reflects long-term goals and ambitions that they have that are not going to be affected by short-term concerns in the economy.”
Research by Jane’s confirms other figures showing China is now the number one military spender in the region, surpassing Japan for the first time in 2008, when Beijing allocated almost 59 billion dollars for its defence needs.
China and India have both amassed wealth after years of rapid economic growth.
“They want to use that wealth to develop and procure military capability so that they are perceived as a country that can defend their assets,” said Jane’s Grevatt.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said the military needed modernisation “across the board” as a proposed 15.3 percent rise in defence spending to 69 billion dollars for 2009 was unveiled by Beijing.
China has come under strong pressure, especially from the United States and Japan, to be more transparent about the nature of its military build-up.
“China has not really made any real attempt to articulate these increases,” said Alan Dupont, from the Centre for International Security Studies, at the University of Sydney.
He said Beijing “should not be criticised for doing exactly what Washington has done, which is to modernise its forces and increase its spending on defence.”
India is also splashing out despite the global economic slowdown, with its defence budget increasing by 24 percent to 29.4 billion dollars for the fiscal year beginning April 1, the steepest rise since independence in 1947.
The bulk of that money will go towards modernising its military — the world’s fourth largest.
The country’s 1.2-million-strong army is shopping for helicopters, artillery, armour and infantry gear while its air force is expected to hand out a 126-aircraft contract worth almost 12 billion dollars.
“We think the Mumbai attacks (in November 2008) sounded alarm bells across Asia about maritime security vulnerabilities,” said Bob Nugent, vice-president for advisory services with US-based AMI International, a naval research agency.
“The immediate reaction in India has been to reorganise the military and related structures that provide maritime security,” he said.
Neighbour Pakistan, which like India is nuclear-armed, will also get in on the act, according to Jane’s — no matter that the troubled country is in dire financial straits.
Islamabad will raise its defence budget from 5.93 billion dollars in 2008 to 6.21 billion dollars this year and 6.7 billion dollars in 2010, Jane’s said.
Pakistan’s officially released defence budget is lower at about 4.1 billion dollars in the year to June 2008.