The U.S. and China led the growth in global defense spending, which hit a new high in 2020 despite the economic stress brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, a report said Thursday.
In its annual report on military power, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said total military expenditures added up to $1.83 trillion in 2020, a 3.9% increase over the previous year. “This came despite the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent contraction in global economic output,” the London-based think tank said in a statement.
The United States remained the top spender, accounting for 40.3% of global spending. But China and other Asian powers concerned about Beijing’s rise also spent more, albeit at a somewhat slower pace than in 2019. Because of the pandemic, IISS said in its “Military Balance” report.
In Asia, overall spending was up 4.3%, down from the 4.9% growth rate of the previous year. Beijing boosted expenditures by $12 billion, or 5.2 %, with total spending at $193.3 billion.
However, IISS and other research groups have questioned China’s budget transparency in recent years. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute pegged Chinese defense spending at $261 billion in 2019.
The document noted China’s maritime paramilitary forces use the South China Sea facilities as forwarding operating bases. China has also built artificial islands in the sea over the last decade and constructed bases on natural features claimed by other nations in the region.
“Beijing seems intent on achieving primacy in its littoral areas,” the IISS said.
Meanwhile, China’s navy has maintained an “over-the-horizon” presence focused on extending its reach.
China’s corvette numbers have more than doubled in the last five years, reaching 55 in 2020, IISS said. Beijing is also boosting its anti-submarine warfare capabilities while expanding its fleets of transport ships and heavy transport aircraft.