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International relations

China and Asia-Pacific fuel global military spending binge

Beijing's buildup spurs neighbors to follow, while Trump urges increases by West

China's first homegrown aircraft carrier leaves a port in Dalian on May 13.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Military buildups by China and its neighbors have played an outsize role in lifting global defense spending well past levels seen a decade ago.

Defense spending last year reached $1.74 trillion worldwide, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates. The total has climbed 9.8% since 2008, driven largely by the world's second-largest military in China.

China's official defense data does not include the costs for procuring military equipment from overseas or for research and development. SIPRI assesses that Beijing's total military spending more than doubled to roughly $228 billion from 2008's approximation of $100 billion.

Beijing's buildup focuses on both quantity and quality. China is constructing homegrown aircraft carriers and will deploy next-generation fighter jets and missiles. Construction of military installations in the South China Sea has taken off conspicuously.

In response, countries in the region have followed suit. Southeast Asia's combined military spending has grown 40% over 10 years. Cambodia quadrupled outlays, while Indonesia and Bangladesh have both more than doubled expenditures.

On the other side of the Pacific, the U.S. remained the world leader last year with a defense budget of roughly $610 billion. This was 14% lower than 2008 due to military spending cuts under former President Barack Obama.

But President Donald Trump, who has pledged to "rebuild our military," signed a bill Monday allocating $717 billion in defense spending for the next fiscal year, one of the largest amounts in several years.

Since before taking office, Trump has criticized U.S. allies for not shouldering more of the security burden. European nations especially have come under fire for small increases in defense expenditures in recent years. The continent added 1.4% over a decade to $342 billion in 2017.

During July's NATO summit, Trump suggested that members spend 4% of their gross national product on defense. NATO has codified the target at 2%.

All the while, Russia boosted military outlays 36% over 10 years -- and this figure includes the deep cuts last year made in response to lower petroleum prices gutting government receipts. When comparing 2016 with 2007, the figure is nearly double.

Middle Eastern countries also are raising defense spending, with Saudi Arabia leading the way at 34% over a decade.

America came out of the Cold War with overwhelming military might. But China's steady growth heralds a standoff between two powers at opposite ends of the Pacific Rim. Trump's new U.S. defense buildup may spur other countries in the Asia-Pacific region to commit to further outlays.

Though Japan officially does not field a military, its defense expenditures have topped records every year since fiscal 2015. Spending has climbed by a relatively minor 4.4% over 10 years, though Trump is prodding Tokyo to procure fighter jets and other U.S. military hardware. While Japan faces China and North Korea as neighbors, Tokyo also has to deal with massive debts at home.

Nikkei staff writers Junnosuke Kobara and Saki Hayashi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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