As the People’s Republic of China (PRC) convenes its National People’s Congress, much attention has been focused on the announcement that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has returned to the long-term trend of double-digit increases in its budget. Where China officially spent 533.5 billion renminbi ($81.2 billion) in 2010, it will now officially spend 601.1 billion renminbi ($91.5 billion) in 2011.
This 12.7 percent increase is seen as indicative of China’s growing military capabilities, including anti-ship ballistic missiles, new stealth fighters, an expanding submarine fleet, and improved command-and-control capabilities.
Yet in the same budget figures, we see that China is spending even more on internal security and increasing spending on it at a faster clip. The PRC spent 548.6 billion renminbi ($83.5 billion) in 2010, and this will be increased to 624.4 billion renminbi ($95 billion) in 2011. This constitutes a 13.8 percent increase in expenditures relating to internal security, including “police, state security, armed civil militia, courts and jails.”
Even accounting for the well-founded assumption that expenditures on the PLA are much higher than officially reported, this level of spending on domestic security is ample indication that China’s leadership is at least as concerned with internal threats as with external ones. There are widespread reports of increasing numbers of “mass incidents,” reflecting popular discontent. Moreover, China’s reaction to recent developments in the Middle East—blocking Internet searches on terms such as “Egypt” and “jasmine protests,” and clamping down and harassing foreign press—suggest the same concern about internal stability.
It should be noted that “mass incidents” arise from a range of sources, including protests against corruption, expropriation of land, environmental degradation, and lack of attention to consumer safety. At this point, they do not necessarily reflect a demand for political change so much as a desire for increased accountability by the Chinese Communist Party. But if left unaddressed, they are likely to coalesce. How Beijing addresses these issues in the coming year, beyond increased expenditures on the instruments of control, remains to be seen.