March 19th, 2006
China chooses guns, not butter info
Ms. Condoleezza Rice is concerned about mainland China's ever-increasing military spending. While visiting Australia this week, the U.S. secretary of state said Beijing's 14 per cent increase in its defense budget was "a lot" of money. |
This concern is shared by many in the world, given the fact that mainland China faces no military threat from other countries. The money could and should be better spent on more pressing matters at home, such as tackling the country's rural woes which are getting worse every day.
America concern about Beijing's military buildup is not new. Last summer, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld severely criticized the mainland for spending too much on defense, which he said might tip the balance of regional stability. Shortly afterwards, the Pentagon issued a report on China's military, in which the United States viewed the mainland as a threat.
Beijing, of course, has been refuting America's criticism, saying its defense budget for 2006, which totals US$35 billion, is moderate and reasonable. Mainland Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said last week that China's military spending per capita is only one-77th that of the United States.
That may be true, to be sure. But the mainland's 14 percent increase in defense spending can hardly be justified. The US$35 billion accounts for 7.5 per cent of the regime's total government expenditure, which should give priority to social and economic issues instead of military buildup.
The reasons are obvious. The mainland's rural woes, known as 'san nong wen ti', or three agricultural problems concerning peasants, villages, and agriculture, are malignant tumors that threaten the Communist Party's hold on power. Rural unrest has been growing as farmers are getting restless when their farmland is grabbed by greedy developers in collaboration with corrupt officials.
In a country of 1.3 billion souls, 800 million live in the countryside which has not been benefiting from the industrial boom of the urban and coastal areas. Many of the people still live below the poverty line. The glaring income inequality between the two social divides has become the source of widespread discontent and turmoil.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is not unaware of the problem. At a press conference following the conclusion of the National People Congress -- the mainland's top legislature -- he apologized for having not done enough to improve the lot of the farmers, and vowed to do more.
That's why Beijing has increased spending on rural development by 14.7 per cent to US$42 billion in 2006, about 8.9 per cent of the overall budget. But that's just a drop in the ocean. It amounts to a meager US$7 per head.
In Mao's days, farmers did not live well, but at least they did not have to worry about public health and education. Now, however, health care and education are no longer free. The government's scrapping of the agricultural tax and an experiment in health care insurance in rural areas are not enough to cure the rural woes. Against this background, the increase in the defense budget is a misplaced priority. Building more missiles and aircraft carriers serves no sensible purpose because they are useless in a world where disputes cannot be resolved by military means. The mainland's national security depends more on social stability at home than on military expansion. Bread and butter matter more than guns for mainland China, whose peaceful rise as a world power needs balanced and wholesome development in all sectors, not the least of which is the agricultural sector.
Last edited by sandy; March 19th, 2006 at 15:07..