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China to have bigger budget for defence
Publication Date : 06-03-2013
China will raise its defence spending by a slightly smaller double-digit increase of 10.7 per cent, though this is unlikely to allay concerns about its growing military assertiveness.
The defence budget will rise to about 720 billion yuan (US$114.5 billion) this year, according to a government budget forecast at the opening of the annual national parliamentary session yesterday.
The hike is a shade lower than the 11.2 per cent last year and the 12.7 per cent in 2011, but foreign military experts believe China's actual spending to be as much as 50 per cent higher.
The bigger budget will go largely towards modernising the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which has made big strides, such as launching the first Chinese aircraft carrier last year.
Opening the National People's Congress (NPC) session yesterday, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao told delegates that turning the PLA into a modern fighting force is a top task.
"We should resolutely uphold China's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, and ensure its peaceful development," he said to loud applause from nearly 3,000 lawmakers in the Great Hall of the People.
He was presenting the government's work report summing up what it has done since 2008 and laying out pressing tasks ahead.
China's military expansion, along with its rapid economic growth in the past 30 years, has sparked concerns, particularly among feuding neighbours.
Talk of war has surfaced amid the tense stand-off between Beijing and Tokyo over a chain of isles known as Diaoyu to the Chinese, and Senkaku to the Japanese. Tensions remain frayed, too, in the South China Sea, which sees competing sovereignty claims by China, Taiwan and Asean members Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.
Also, for the first time since 2011, the increase for the defence budget will outstrip that for public security spending, which goes up by 8.7 per cent.
Still, China is spending more on police and domestic surveillance than on the military, a trend that began in 2011, reflecting its fears about domestic instability.
Professor Ni Lexiong, a military expert at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said foreign countries should have less cause for worry with the slower growth in the defence budget.
"One factor could be due to economic uncertainties, though it may also stem from a desire to moderate tensions in its relations with other countries," he added.
"The lower rise in defence spending shows China is committed to peaceful development and doesn't want to fight any war."
On Monday, NPC spokesman Fu Ying tried to allay fears when she stressed that the defence budget hikes are not aimed at threatening others.
But observers say the huge size of China's defence budget, second only to that of the United States, remains a cause for concern.
It has been rising while Western defence budgets are either stagnating or growing slowly, said military analyst Andrew Erickson of the US Naval War College in a blog post yesterday.
And the US, whose defence budget was some $656 billion last year, could reportedly scale it back to $600 billion this year as part of government-wide spending cuts.
"To ensure that China acts responsibly in the Asia-Pacific - now the world's most economically and strategically dynamic region - the US must maintain strong military capabilities, alliances and partnerships to deter any Chinese efforts to use force, or the threat of force, to alter the regional status quo," he wrote.