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Monday, October 25
China reins in defence spending
China announced its smallest increase in defence spending in more than two decades today, a likely result of both financial constraints and growing concern over perceptions of Beijing as a regional military threat.
The planned 7.5% rise in defence spending in 2010 follows at least 20 years of double-digit increases in the budget for the People's Liberation Army – the world's largest standing military with more than 2.3 million members.
Rapid military modernisation and the acquisition of cutting-edge jet fighters, warships and submarines have aroused suspicions in Washington, Tokyo, New Delhi and elsewhere over China's intentions, fuelled by Beijing's growing diplomatic assertiveness and economic might.
The increase will be used to enhance China's ability "to meet various threats", said Li Zhaoxing, spokesman for China's parliament, the National People's Congress, on the eve of the opening of its annual legislative session.
"China is committed to peaceful development and a military posture that is defensive in nature," he said.
Li said this year's defence budget of 532.11bn yuan (£51.7bn) remained low, particularly in relation to the country's vast territory and population. Chinese defence spending had accounted for about 1.4% of gross domestic product in recent years, as opposed to more than 4% in the US and more than 2% in Britain, France and Russia, he said. The increase over actual military spending in 2009 was 37.12bn yuan.
Defence expenditure accounted for 6.3% of China's total budget, a decline from previous years.
Officials say about a third of China's spending goes to salaries and improving living conditions for soldiers, with the rest split between replacing equipment, and military research and development.
Many overseas analysts believe the official figure accounts for only a part of military spending, with estimates on the actual amount ranging up to twice or more what Beijing claims.
Figures provided by China's cabinet show the last single-digit percentage rise in defence spending was in the 1980s.
Ni Lexiong, a defence analyst at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said the slowdown was due in part to the global financial crisis, which had hit China's crucial export sector and prompted the government to rein in expenditure.
China's leadership had also realised that large increases were generating concern and suspicion among its neighbours, potentially sparking an arms race, he said.
"The decline shows that China does not want to be seen as an aggressive military power."
China split with Taiwan amid civil war in 1949 and continues to regard the self-governing democracy as part of its territory. Beijing has warned of a disruption in ties with Washington if the sales go ahead, but has not said what specific actions it would take.
Li accused some countries of backing Taiwan to thwart China, calling that unacceptable interference in China's internal affairs.
He said Washington's announcement in January that it intended to sell Taiwan $6.4bn (£4.2bn) worth of helicopters, air defence missiles and other military hardware was especially unwelcome because it came amid a warming trend in Beijing's relations with the island.
Wang Kun-yi, a defence scholar at Taipei's Tamkung University, said relations with Taiwan were less of a factor in Beijing's defence spending than economic stress and worries about appearing overly aggressive.
"China's defence budget is not specifically linked to cross-strait developments, but rather it is more related to the country's global positioning," Wang said.
Defence spending is among the budget items to be approved at the end of the congress session, which begins tomorrow and runs until 14 March.
This year's session is expected to see a shift in spending priorities towards affordable housing, education, healthcare and other social programmes.
Li said the full assembly this year would amend a law on how deputies were selected, correcting a disparity that gave urban Chinese people greater representation than their more numerous rural neighbours.
"Defence World News" (Breaking International Defense News)