China boosts defense spending as regional disputes heat up

China boosts defense spending as regional disputes heat up
A conductor leads the military band as they perform a national anthem during the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on March 5, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 05 March 2024
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China boosts defense spending as regional disputes heat up

China boosts defense spending as regional disputes heat up
  • China has the world’s second-largest defense budget behind the United States
  • China’s military spending makes up 1.6 percent of GDP, far less than United States 

China announced Tuesday it would boost its defense spending in 2024, as hostility over Taiwan and in the South China Sea grows.

The 7.2 percent increase, identical to last year’s figure, was announced at the start of the annual meeting of the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC).

China will spend 1.665 trillion yuan ($231.4 billion) on defense in 2024, according to the budget report that lays out the government’s financial plans for the year ahead.

China has the world’s second-largest defense budget behind the United States, even though the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) surpasses the US military by number of personnel.

Still, China’s military spend is around three times smaller than Washington’s in recent years.

The world’s second-largest economy will maintain “reasonable growth” in its defense budget to “safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests,” NPC spokesman Lou Qinjian said Monday.

'Viewed with suspicion'




Soldiers of People's Liberation Army (PLA) march in formation during the military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China, on October 1, 2019. (REUTERS)

The country’s expenditure on its armed forces has been on the rise for decades, broadly in line with economic growth.

China’s military spending makes up 1.6 percent of its GDP, far less than the United States or Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

But its defense expansion is viewed with suspicion by Washington, as well as other powers in the region including Japan, with which Beijing has a territorial dispute over islands in the East China Sea.

China has also increasingly flexed its muscles in the South China Sea, which it claims almost entirely despite an international arbitration ruling that declared its stance baseless.

China’s boost in spending is also a cause for concern for self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing says is part of its territory to be claimed by force if necessary.

As the NPC kicked off on Tuesday, the government work report said China would again “resolutely oppose separatist activities aimed at ‘Taiwan independence’” in 2024.

'Biggest challenge to NATO'

China also says it is worried about cooperation between its regional rivals and the United States, as well as NATO.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said in January that China was the “biggest long term challenge NATO Allies face.”

“We see them in Africa, we see them in the Arctic, we see them trying to control our critical infrastructure,” he added.

China made “a number of significant acquisitions, including a substantial increase in number of nuclear warheads” last year, James Char, an expert on the Chinese army at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, told AFP.

According to Sipri, Beijing had 410 nuclear warheads in 2023, an increase of 60 from the year before.

However, that still significantly lags behind Washington’s 3,708 and Moscow’s 4,489.

Moreover, “recent military corruption scandals raise doubts about the effectiveness of (Beijing’s) missile force and overall military professionalism,” said Adam Ni, editor of China Neican, a newsletter on Chinese current affairs.

Over the course of the last year there has been a leadership overhaul of China’s Rocket Force — the army unit that oversees its nuclear arsenal — following media reports of a graft probe involving its former chief.

Among a slew of other dismissals, former defense minister Li Shangfu was sacked without explanation last October after just a few months in the job.

'US still top dog'

Corruption needs to be tackled if President Xi Jinping’s “goal of displacing the US armed forces as the world’s pre-eminent military power” is to be realized, said NTU’s Char.

For the time being, Washington remains firmly in the top spot.

The United States has the world’s highest military spending, according to Sipri — standing at $877 billion in 2022, the latest figures available.

China comes second, followed by Russia and India.

The United States also has “global presence and alliance networks, which China cannot replicate in the short term,” said Neican’s Ni.

Washington has hundreds of military bases abroad, while Beijing has just one, in Djibouti.

“Given the PLA’s shortcomings — — particularly in combined arms and joint operations -— it stands to reason that Beijing possesses neither the wherewithal nor the desire to initiate conflict against Washington or launch an invasion across the Taiwan Strait,” said Char.

“A lingering concern, however, is that aggressive interactions between the PLA and other militaries in the region carry the potential to go awry and escalate into a full-blown conflict.”


Germany to send new frigate to protect ships in the Red Sea

Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
Updated 6 sec ago
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Germany to send new frigate to protect ships in the Red Sea

Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
  • The Houthis said on Thursday they had attacked almost 100 vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in months of strikes
  • Leading shipping industry associations appeal to UN to protect vessels after Iran seizure

BERLIN: Germany said on Saturday it will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August to help secure maritime traffic, which has been disrupted for months due to Houthi attacks.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the “Hamburg” will replace the “Hessen,” which left the zone on Saturday.
The “Hessen” had been deployed in the area on Feb. 23 as part of the EU’s “Aspides” mission to protect ships.
The statement said the “Hamburg” had escorted 27 merchant ships in the intervention zone and had, on four occasions, repulsed drone and missile attacks by the Houthis.
It had around 240 military personnel on board.

BACKGROUND

Houthi attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea have been met with retaliatory strikes by US and British forces since January.

The Houthis said on Thursday they had attacked almost 100 vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in months of strikes.
They began attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in November, a campaign they say is intended as a show of support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The attacks on the vital trade route have been met with retaliatory strikes by US and British forces since January.
The US set up a multinational task force late last year to “protect” Red Sea shipping.
Recent Houthi attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden have also affected the global maritime transport chain.
Merchant ships and seafarers are increasingly in peril at sea as attacks escalate in the Middle East, the industry said in a letter released on Friday. It said the UN must do more to protect supply chains.
In a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the world’s leading shipping industry associations said Iran’s seizure on April 13 of the MSC Aries container ship 50 nautical miles off the UAE coast “once again highlighted the intolerable situation where shipping has become a target.”
“Innocent seafarers have been killed. Seafarers are being held hostage,” the letter said.
“The world would be outraged if four airliners were seized and held hostage with innocent souls onboard. Regrettably, there does not seem to be the same response or concern (for ships and their crew members).”
India’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that an Indian woman who was a mariner on the MSC Aries had returned to the country.
It added that it was in touch with the other 16 Indian crew members still being held aboard the vessel.
The industry letter said: “Seafarers and the maritime sector are neutral and must not be politicized.”
The letter added: “Given the continually evolving and severe threat profile within the area, we call on you for enhanced coordinated military presence, missions, and patrols in the region to protect our seafarers against any further possible aggression.”
Iran has also seized other vessels in international waters in recent years, heightening risks for merchant shipping in the area.

 


Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots
Updated 5 min 32 sec ago
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Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

MADRID: Ministers from five Mediterranean nations have urged the EU to “deepen” bilateral agreements with migrant countries of origin and increase funding to tackle the root causes of migration.
During the Gran Canaria Island meeting, ministers of interior and migration from the MED5 nations — Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain — discussed the new migration and asylum pact adopted by the EU Parliament on April 11.
Years in the making, the deal involves a sweeping reform of the bloc’s asylum policies that will harden border procedures while forcing all 27 nations to share responsibility for migrant arrivals.

FASTFACT

The new EU pact includes building border centers to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside ‘safe’ countries.

The reform was spurred by the massive influx of migrants in 2015, with its provisions taking effect in 2026.
Hailing the pact as “historic,” Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said there was “still a long way to go” and that the solution lay in “prevention” and addressing the root causes of migration “at its source.”
“The key to migration management lies in bilateral cooperation,” he told a news conference, urging the European Commission “to deepen and broaden partnerships and agreements with third countries” to stem flows of irregular migrants.
“But we believe there is room for improvement, and the commitment should also focus on increasing European funds and flexible financing tools destined for such cooperation,” he said.
Under current EU rules, the arrival country bears responsibility for hosting and vetting asylum-seekers and returning those deemed inadmissible, which has put southern frontline states under huge pressure, fueling far-right opposition.
The new EU pact, which includes building border centers to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside “safe” countries, has been denounced by migrant charities and NGOs, with Amnesty International warning it would “lead to greater human suffering.”

 


Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel

Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel
Updated 20 April 2024
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Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel

Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel
  • The United States and China also are battling over trade and commerce issues, with President Joe Biden announcing new tariffs on imports of Chinese steel this past week
  • Talks between Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected, although neither side will confirm such a meeting is happening until shortly before it takes place

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to China this coming week as Washington and Beijing try to keep ties on an even keel despite major differences on issues from the path to peace in the Middle East to the supply of synthetic opioids that have heightened fears over global stability.
The rivals are at odds on numerous fronts, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, Taiwan and the South China Sea, North Korea, Hong Kong, human rights and the detention of American citizens. The United States and China also are battling over trade and commerce issues, with President Joe Biden announcing new tariffs on imports of Chinese steel this past week.
The State Department said Saturday that Blinken, on his second visit to China in less than a year, will travel to Shanghai and Beijing starting Wednesday for three days of meetings with senior Chinese officials, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Talks between Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected, although neither side will confirm such a meeting is happening until shortly before it takes place.
The department said in a statement that Blinken would “discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues,” including the Middle East, the war in Ukraine, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
He will also talk about progress made in “resuming counternarcotics cooperation, military-to-military communication, artificial intelligence, and strengthening people-to-people ties” and will reaffirm how important it is for the US and China to be “responsibly managing competition, even in areas where our two countries disagree,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
The trip follows a phone call this month between Biden and Xi in which they pledged to keep high-level contacts open, something they had agreed to last year at a face-to-face summit in California. Since that call, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has visited China and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has spoken by phone with his Chinese counterpart. Meetings at lower levels also have taken place.
Despite those encounters, relations are rocky. The US has recently become more vocal in its calls for China to stop supporting Russia’s military-industrial sector, which Washington says has allowed Moscow to boost weapons production to support the war against Ukraine.
“We see China sharing machine tools, semiconductors, other dual-use items that have helped Russia rebuild the defense industrial base that sanctions and export controls had done so much to degrade,” Blinken said Friday. “Now, if China purports on the one hand to want good relations with Europe and other countries, it can’t on the other hand be fueling what is the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War.”
Blinken also has pushed for China to take a more active stance in pressing Iran not to escalate tensions in the Middle East. He has spoken to his Chinese counterpart several times since the Israel-Hamas war began six months ago as he has sought China’s help in getting Iran to restrain proxy groups it has supported, armed and funded in the region.
That topic has taken on new urgency since direct back-and-forth attacks by Iran and Israel on each other’s soil in the past week.
Also high on the agenda for Blinken will be Taiwan and the South China Sea.
The US has strongly condemned Chinese military exercises threatening Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province and vowed to reunify with the mainland by force if necessary. Successive US administrations have steadily ramped up military support and sales for Taipei, much to the anger of Chinese officials.
In the South China Sea, the US and others have become increasingly concerned by provocative Chinese actions in and around disputed areas. In particular, the US has voiced objections to what it says are Chinese attempts to thwart legitimate activities by others in the waterway, notably the Philippines and Vietnam.
That was a major topic of concern earlier this month when Biden held a three-way summit with the prime minister of Japan and the president of the Philippines.


London police apologize after threatening to arrest ‘openly Jewish’ man near pro-Palestinian protest

London police apologize after threatening to arrest ‘openly Jewish’ man near pro-Palestinian protest
Updated 20 April 2024
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London police apologize after threatening to arrest ‘openly Jewish’ man near pro-Palestinian protest

London police apologize after threatening to arrest ‘openly Jewish’ man near pro-Palestinian protest
  • London’s Metropolitan Police Service on Friday afternoon apologized for the language the officer used in describing Falter’s appearance
  • “In an effort to make a point about the policing of protest we caused further offense,” the force said

LONDON: London’s police force has been forced to issue two apologies after officers threatened to arrest an “openly Jewish” man if he refused to leave the area around a pro-Palestinian march because his presence risked provoking the demonstrators.
Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, was wearing a traditional Jewish skullcap when he was stopped by police while trying to cross a street in central London as demonstrators filed past on April 13.
One officer told Falter he was worried that the man’s “quite openly Jewish” appearance could provoke a reaction from the protesters, according to video posted by the campaign group. A second officer then told Falter he would be arrested if he refused to be escorted out of the area because he was “causing a breach of the peace.”
London’s Metropolitan Police Service on Friday afternoon apologized for the language the officer used in describing Falter’s appearance, but said counter demonstrators had to be aware “that their presence is provocative.”
The Met later deleted that apology from its social media accounts and issued a second statement.


“In an effort to make a point about the policing of protest we caused further offense,” the force said. “This was never our intention. We have removed that statement and we apologize.”
“Being Jewish is not a provocation. Jewish Londoners must be able to feel safe in the city.”
The episode highlights the challenges London police face amid the boiling tensions surrounding the war in Gaza, with some Jewish residents saying they feel threatened by repeated pro-Palestinian marches through the streets of the British capital.
While the marches have been largely peaceful, many demonstrators accuse Israel of genocide and a small number have shown support for Hamas, the group that led the Oct. 7 attack on Israel and which has been banned by the British government as a terrorist organization.
The Met has deployed thousands of officers during each of the dozen major marches as it sought to protect the rights of the pro-Palestinian protesters and prevent clashes with counter-demonstrators and Jewish residents.
Following Falter’s confrontation with police, the Campaign Against Antisemitism issued a call for Londoners to exercise their right to walk wherever they choose on April 27, when another pro-Palestinian march is scheduled.
In response, the Met emailed Falter about what it described as his intention to “protest” next week and offered to meet with him to discuss ways to “ensure we can police the event as safely as possible,” according an exchange of correspondence released by the campaign group.
Falter rejected the idea that he was staging a protest, saying he was planning to go for a walk as a “private individual” and others might choose to join him.
“Unfortunately @MetPoliceUK is missing the point,” he said on the social media site X. “This is not a protest or counterprotest. Anyone who wishes to walk around London on Saturday 27th April … is free to do so. Even if they are ‘quite openly Jewish.’”


Denmark airport reopens after bomb threat, man arrested

Denmark airport reopens after bomb threat, man arrested
Updated 18 min 53 sec ago
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Denmark airport reopens after bomb threat, man arrested

Denmark airport reopens after bomb threat, man arrested
  • Police arrested a man in his thirties and removed an object “likely to contain explosives“
  • The airport reopened at 7:00 pm

STOCKHOLM: Denmark’s second largest airport reopened late Saturday after a man was arrested in connection with a bomb threat that forced its evacuation, police said.
During the search in Billund airport in central Denmark, police arrested a man in his thirties and removed an object “likely to contain explosives.”
Chemical tests will be carried out for confirmation.
Danish police arrested the man after he “himself informed the police at the airport that the object he had dropped off contained explosives,” they said in a statement.
The airport reopened at 7:00 p.m. (0500 GMT), but several flights were canceled or delayed during its closure.
Police are also investigating whether there is a link between this bomb threat and the bombing of an ATM in Billund at around 4:00 am on Saturday.
Billund airport is near the headquarters of the manufacturer of Lego toy bricks and the Legoland theme park.