Weekly briefing: China’s national parade

A weekly round-up of relevant IEP data providing insight into the world around us.

Wednesday 2 October, 2019: China has marked its national day, and 70 years of the Communist Party, with a mighty military cavalcade led by President Xi Jinping, signifying the country’s rise to power and global prominence. The precisely choreographed pomp and show of ceremonial national pride dominated the streets of central Beijing, including a sweeping display of 15,000 troops, 70 floats, and the public debut of China’s latest weaponry such as hypersonic drones, which can travel at five times the speed of sound, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, capable of reaching the United States. Critics are calling out the strengthened online censorship and security campaign surrounding the ceremony. To ensure the event went smoothly, reports say the parade was only open to invited guests, with bans on kites, balloons, pigeons, drones and alcohol. Local social media sites warned users against sharing “harmful political information” that “distort” the country’s history. On the same day, protests in Hong Kong saw rising levels of aggression with reports of one protester shot – the first time live ammunition has been used directly in confrontations between demonstrators and police.

Military muscle on display

While China’s national celebrations showed off the country’s sophisticated weaponry, the dazzling display of weapons belies the fact that as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), China’s military expenditure has reduced.

Data from the Global Peace Index (GPI) shows that China’s scores in the Ongoing Conflict and Militarisation domains improved based on an increase in its United Nations peacekeeping funding, and a reduction in its weapons exports and military expenditure as a percentage of GDP. In contrast, China’s Safety and Security domain score has deteriorated due to a rise in the incarceration rate. Approximately one million Uighur Muslims are thought to be detained in internment camps in Xinjiang province.

The reduction in China’s military expenditure is broadly consistent with the global trend. Between 2008 and 2019, 98 countries showed improvement on the GPI’s military expenditure as a percentage of GDP indicator. This indicator improved on average for five of the nine regions globally, with the biggest average improvement occurring in the Asia-Pacific region.

Over the last decade, the average armed services personnel rate per 100,000 people fell from just above 460 per 100,000 to just under 400. This improvement was not confined to any one region or government type. The armed services personnel rate fell across all four government types, with the largest relative change on average occurring in authoritarian regimes.

The improvement in both armed services personnel and military expenditure was particularly notable in some of the largest militaries in the world. Of the five countries with the largest total military expenditure – United States, China, Saudi Arabia, India, and Russia – all five had falls in their armed service personnel rates, and China, India, and the US also had a concurrent reduction in military expenditure as a percentage of GDP.

Who runs the world?

According to the GPI, the perception of leadership in the world’s most influential countries has been declining. Confidence in US leadership has fallen the most in the past five years, with people now having more confidence in China than the US on average.

Between 2008 and 2018, the approval rating for the leadership of China, Russia, the United States and Germany all declined.

For the first time in 2017, the global average approval of US leadership fell below approval of Chinese leadership.

Approval of Chinese leadership varies considerably by region. It is highest in Sub-Saharan Africa but has been steadily declining for the past eight years, falling from a high of 71 per cent in 2011, to just under 51 per cent in 2018. Falls in approval were also seen in the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East and North Africa.

In contrast, European approval of China’s leadership increased by 13 percentage points, from 14 per cent in 2008 to 27 per cent in 2018. In Asia, approval increased most significantly in Taiwan and Mongolia, rising by 20 and 18 percentage points to 49 and 60 per cent approval, respectively. The greatest fall in approval was in Vietnam, dropping from 56 to just six per cent.