China will increase its defense budget about 10 percent this year, compared with last year’s 12.2 percent increase, a spokesperson for the annual session of the country’s top legislature said Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference a day ahead of the Third Session of the 12th National People’s Congress, spokesperson Fu Ying said the exact figure will be published in a draft budget report on Thursday but said that the recommended growth rate is about 10 percent.
Last year China’s defense budget increased 12.2 percent to 808.2 billion yuan (about $131 billion), riding on a multi-year run of double-digit increases.
A growth rate of about 10 percent would be the lowest in five years and put the world’s second largest economy’s defense spending at about 890 billion yuan ($145 billion). For comparison, U.S. military spending amounted to $660.4 billion in 2013.
“There is still a gap between China’s armed forces in terms of overall military equipment. We still need more time. Compared with major countries in the world, the road to China’s defense modernization is indeed a difficult one,” Fu said. “We have to rely on ourselves for most of our military equipment and research.”
Fu that China’s size necessitates an army that can safeguard its national security and people.
“Lagging behind leaves one vulnerable to attacks. That is a lesson we have learned from history,” she said.
The military build-up has worried some of China’s neighbors, particularly as China has taken an increasingly robust line on its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas.
Asked about China’s defense spending by Reuters, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan was concerned the figure “lacks transparency.”
An Indian defense official looking at regional security issues said the double-digit rise was no surprise.
“There was some talk it could slow down in view of the economic slowdown, but our sense was modernization will remain on track,” the official said.
India has announced a $40 billion defense budget for 2015-16, representing a 7.9 percent rise over the allocation for 2014-15.
In the United States, the Obama administration has proposed an increased $534 billion Pentagon base budget plus $51 billion in war funds as it urged Congress to end cuts it says erode U.S. military power.
China’s military expenditures have seen a multi-year run of double-digit increases since 2010 when the defense budget was set to grow by 7.5 percent. The figures stood at 12.7 percent in 2011, 11.2 percent in 2012, 10.7 percent in 2013.
Chinese experts said they were perfectly in line with the country’s economic conditions. The Chinese economy grew 7.4 percent in 2014, the weakest annual expansion in 24 years. Many believe the government might set the 2015 growth target at around 7 percent. If so, a 10-percent rise in defense budget would have represented a steeper drop from last year, compared with the slowing economy.
U.S. military and diplomatic “rebalancing” towards Asia and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption in the People’s Liberation Army — which has caused some disquiet in the ranks — are among the other factors keeping military spending high, experts have said. President Xi has pursued corrupt officials in all walks of life, and among the most powerful people ensnared by the campaign have been former top military officers.
Beijing has also said it faces a threat from Islamist militants in the far western region of Xinjiang, and is drafting a new anti-terror law that will create a legal framework for sending troops abroad on counter-terrorism missions.
The spokeswoman nonetheless noted that China’s defense policy is defensive in nature, and that the principle is “clearly defined in the country’s Constitution” and “will not easily change” from its direction and principle.
“We have achieved so much success with reform and opening up, we have not relied on gunboats to develop roads, but instead we have relied on complete and mutual beneficial cooperation,” Fu said.”We have been successful on this road, the road of peaceful development. We will adhere to the path of peaceful development.”
Story compiled with information from China News Service and Reuters reports.