Where do we stand vis a vis Pakistan & China in defence spending

The Dokhlam stand-off between India and China ostensibly, eased out by diplomatic manoeuvres from both Prime Minister NarendraModi and China’s supremo Xi ZinPing, has called into question a very critical question for the defence ministry and the military bosses of the country.How is India’s defence preparedness vis a vis its proverbial foes China and Pakistan across the borders. ?

Sabre rattling between India and Pakistan on the one side and India and China on the other side continue unabated – issue of Pakistan providing safe haven for terrorists on its soil and even training them by its intelligence wing the ISI and China perturbed by India’s rise as an economic power and blocking its silk route through Bhutan and some parts of India to ferry oil supplies from the gulf to its industries are issues of concern and dispute.

China is flexing muscles militarily to browbeat India via the dokhlam issue amassing troops on their side of the border with India to throw a scare as its military might is definitely a notch higher than India’s in terms of equipment and manpower.

It appears as if the cold war between USA and Russia may have gotten over with the dismemberment of the Soviet Union under comrade Mikhail Gorbachev with his glasnost and perestroika policies,  which Russian supremo Vladamir Putin, the former KGB chief, is now trying to resurrect with his new found economic status with oil exports bringing in lots of revenue to a state,  that was once ravaged after the great euro Asian nation split up into smaller states.

The cold war has now shifted to the Asian hinterland with India and China flexing muscles both economically and militarily with the former having an edge on the former and the latter having definite superiority on the latter. China is wooing all of India’s SAARC neighbours from Pakistan to Sri Lanka to Mauritius to Maldives.

Its time to take a look if India’s defence preparedness is good enough to defend its borders and prevent any invasion from its neighbours Pakistan and China. India’s military leaders are on the nerves edge with Pakistan training and infiltrating India’s borders especially in the disputed areas of Kashmir with infidels. China upset over India supporting Bhutan on the issue of not allowing China to build the super highway, more popularly referred to as the OBOR which will run through Bhutan, some parts of India, Iran Pakistan Afghanistan to the Middle East.

Chinas economy has over heated with inventory pileup especially of Steel, of which  it is the biggest supplier to the world, as global recession is yet to taper off in the west especially Europe and the divisions in the European Union vis a vis Britain which wants to pull out.

China failed through diplomatic efforts to get India on board at the summit on its soil to discuss the OBOR (one belt one road).  So the Dokhlamissue came in handy.

God knows how many more issues China will trump up to brow beat India in the absence of any support from Trump,  who now offers more assistance to India and blocked the same to China’s ally Pakistan, in their joint endeavour to combat terrorists and flush out terrorism.

In this context it’s good to take a look at how much China, Pakistan and India spend on their defence preparedness to get a fair idea of how India can measure up against them to protect its borders and ensure safety for its citizens.

In 2016, according to defence industry sources, the Chinese government’s official defence spending figure was $146 billion, an increase of 11% from the budget of $131 billion in 2014. China thus with its huge military budget becomes the second largest arms spender in the world behind the US.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, China became the world’s third largest exporter of major arms in 2010-14, an increase of 143 per cent from the period 2005-2009. China supplied major arms to 35 states in 2010–14. A significant percentage (just over 68 per cent) of Chinese exports went to three countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. China also exported major arms to 18 African states.

The Chinese government, the sources said, annually announce the budget for the internal security forces and the PLA at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in early March.

  • 2014: the budget was announced to be US$132BN
  • 2015: the budget was announced to be US$141BN At the same time, the Chinese government estimated the Chinese economy to grow 7% in 2015.
  • 2016: the budget was announced to be 954.35 billion yuan which is about US$147BN, raised 6-7 % above last year’s estimates.
  • 2018: the budget was announced to be 1.11 trillion yuan ($175 billion), which represents an 8.1% increase, and a 1.1% increase compared to the 2017 budget. This is China’s largest defense budgets raise in three years.

Unofficial estimates place the total amount of military spending for China higher than the Chinese government figures, but these calculations tend to differ between organizations, according to data listed by wikepedia.

According to many international institutes, SIPRIRAND, the CIA and the DIA Chinas military spend is estimated to be between US$30–65 billion. In terms of purchasing power parity, or the relative purchasing strength of the expenditure, the SIPRI estimate was as high as US$140 billion. The Chinese government’s published budget at that time was less than US$25 billion.

RAND Corporation study for year 2003 estimated China’s defense spending to be higher than the official number but lower than United States Department of Defense calculations.

The defense spending of China was estimated, in the mid-range estimate, to be 38 billion dollars or 2.3% of China’s GDP in 2003. The official figure was 22.4 billion dollars. Nevertheless, Chinese military spending doubled between 1997 and 2003, nearly reaching the level of the United Kingdom and Japan, and it continued to grow over 10% annually during 2003-2005.

In 2010, the US Department of Defense’s annual report to Congress on China’s military strength estimated the actual 2009 Chinese military spending at US$150 billion. The  Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates that the military spending of the People’s Republic of China for 2009 was US$100 billion, higher than the official budget, but lower than the US DoD estimate.The International Institute for Strategic Studies in a 2011 report argued that if spending trends continue China will achieve military equality with the United States in 15–20 years.

Jane’s Defence Forecasts in 2012 estimated that China’s defence budget would increase from $119.80 billion to $238.20 billion between 2011 and 2015. This would make it larger than the defence budgets of all other major Asian nations combined. This is still smaller than the estimated United States defence budget of $525.40 billion for 2013. However, United States defence spending is slightly declining, the sources said.

In 2017, the magazine Popular Mechanics estimated that China’s annual military spending is greater than $200 billion, around 2% of the GDP.

Here is a table on where India stacks up on military spend with other nations

Absolute expenditures in USD
Country/Region Official budget (2014) SIPRI (2012) IHS Inc. (2013) IISS (2013)
United States $575 billion $682.5 billion $582.4 billion $600.4 billion
China $131 billion $166.1 billion $139.2 billion $112.2 billion
Russia $69.3 billion $90.7 billion $68.9 billion $68.2 billion
United Kingdom $56.9 billion $60.8 billion $58.9 billion $57 billion
Japan $47 billion $59.3 billion $56.8 billion $51 billion
India $40 billion

So where does India stand before China’s military might in terms of spend and equipment. Many army generals speak internally in hushed tones that most of the arms and ammunition that India has are out-dated even as the then Defence Minister ArunJaitley at a missile launch in Bangalore last year said that India’s defence preparedness was its defence. Prime Minister NarendraModi has stated : “ A strong army is a prerequisite for a strong country”. After the surgical strike inside Pakistan occupied Kashmir, military is the leitmotif of the season, defence sources say.

Last year, India spent around 2.3 % of it’s GDP on military, which is $51.3 billion. Same year, Pakistan spent 3.4% of their GDP on military, which is $9.5 billion.Surprisingly, while this is the lowest percentage of it’s GDP that India has spent on military in the last 10 years barring 2007, the absolute value shows that this is the highest that the country has spent for the same, a figure that has steadily increased since 2005, media reports indicate.

The percentage of the GDP Pakistan used for the upkeep of its military strength was at its lowest in 2007 and 2008. Both 3.1% and their absolute values were $6.7 billion and $6.9 billion respectively. This coincides with a sudden drop in Pakistan’s GDP growth rate — from a 5.54% in 2007 to a mere 0.36% in 2009. While the GDP they spent remained the same for the next two years, the absolute values showed steady increase since 2011. So did the percent of GDP used, these reports claim.

Pakistan perhaps uses more of its GDP on defence than India does , India’s nominal GDP in 2015 was $2,308.018 billion and Pakistan’s was $270.96 billion, which is a strong indication that even if Pakistan doubles the percentage of GDP,  it is currently spending on military, the absolute amount can’t match up to the amount India allocates to defence in its Union Budget.







GDP Amount in USD GDP Amount in USD
2010 2.7% 48,940 3.1% 7,520
2011 2.6% 48,766 3.3% 7,975
2012 2.5% 48,406 3.2% 8,238
2013 2.4% 50,914 3.3% 8,655
2014 2.5% 51,116 3.3% 9,248
2015 2.3% 51,257 3.4% 9,510

Having said that, it’s better to analyse if India’s military might is modern or out-datedvisa vis Pakistan and China. Says AbhinavDatta , a defence expert and researcher at the Manipal University , the pace of modernisation of the Indian armed forces over the years has been rather slow, and technologically, they are not where they should have been. Indigenous development of modern defence hardware continues to remain a concern and Indian policy aspiration for defence self-sufficiency remains largely elusive. How are the Indian armed forces responding to the emerging security scenario in the region and beyond, and to address issues in defence?

Datta adds that the Indian defence industry suffers from major policy, structural, and cultural challenges that beset a military industrial complex that continues to struggle in terms of delivering modern defence hardware that could have added to the greater Indian defence indigenisation and production. Experts see a number of systemic flaws in the Indian defence establishment and civil-military relations, which present major challenges for India’s military modernisation aspirations.

It’s in this context that we have to see the visit of Defence Minister NirmalaSitharaman to China, India’s recent tie-ups with France for arms and ammunition and US President Donald Trumps unstinted support to India to fight global terrorism is a major positive comfort. India must avoid any military confrontation with China as it cannot match up its might in technology or manpower. Pakistan will be an added irritant.



T N Ashok is a Corporate Consultant, Resident Editor and Writer of Economic Affairs.