BEIJING — China’s military spending has been rapidly spiraling upward, and the growing amounts are unnerving Beijing’s Asian neighbors and policy planners in the Pentagon, who are openly wary about the country’s long-term intentions.
Getting a handle on Chinese military spending is difficult because much of it is opaque and off the books, such as the People’s Liberation Army’s spending on research and space exploration. But various international think tanks estimate that China’s military spending has risen from about $20 billion in 2002 to at least $120 billion last year.
The United States still spends four times as much on its military. But by some accounts, China is on course to surpass the United States in total military spending by 2035.
The increased spending has allowed the PLA to embark on a sweeping modernization program that includes new long-range cruise missiles, a new fleet of J-10 and J-11 fighter jets, an experimental stealth J-20 plane, a refurbished Soviet-era aircraft carrier and a growing space program, which includes China’s own satellite navigation network. The PLA has also embarked on a long-term campaign to improve the inter-operability of its various ground, naval and air forces — long a weak point for the Chinese military.