Thu, Mar 07, 2002 - Page 1 News List

China's military grumbles over 17.6% budget increase

AP , BEIJING

Chinese military officers said a 17.6 percent rise in defense spending announced yesterday wasn't enough, grumbling that poorly paid soldiers are shivering in unheated barracks and lack modern equipment.

China's Finance Minister Xiang Huaicheng (項懷誠), in a budget report to China's legislature, announced the 14th straight year of double-digit increases in military spending. He said the People's Liberation Army (PLA) must modernize weapons and raise salaries.

The modernization of the 2.5-million-member PLA, the world's biggest military, has unnerved some Asian countries that have territorial disputes with Beijing.

Yet military delegates to the National People's Congress said the increase still isn't enough.

It "doesn't satisfy the military's needs," said General Song Qingwei, one of more than 250 legislators representing the PLA. "Many barracks in cold areas don't have heating."

"Troops and officers have to eat, live and repair equipment," he said. "We have to appropriately increase our military spending."

The 166 billion yuan (US$20 billion) budget is a 25.2 billion yuan increase over last year, according to Xiang. It is slightly below last year's 17.7 percent rise, a record in real terms when inflation is taken into account.

The money is needed "to utilize modern technology, especially high technology, to raise our army's defense and combat capabilities," Xiang told delegates.

The ruling Communist Party needs the PLA both to defend China's sprawling territory and to cement its control as leaders in their 70s prepare to hand power to a younger generation over the next year.

Another officer, Deng Hongmo, said finances are still tight.

"Our military budget is very small compared to other major countries," he said. "Our equipment is still backward."

China is spending heavily on warplanes, submarines and other weapons from Russia -- purchases thought not to be included in the publicly announced budget.

But with soldiers' wages as low as several hundred yuan (less than US$100) a month, the military is having trouble attracting qualified personnel.

"The PLA has to compete much more vigorously to attract and retain the skilled personnel increasingly required as a result of its acquisition of more and more advanced systems," said Robert Karniol, Asia-Pacific editor for Jane's Defense Weekly.

Western experts say China's true military spending is two and a half to five times the official figure. But China insists that its spending is low compared to other major countries. It says its military modernization does not threaten its Asian neighbors.

"It's all purely for defense," said a civilian legislator from the eastern province of Shandong. He gave only his surname, Sun.

"We just want to see the living standards for the officers and the men rise to a decent level. This increase is absolutely reasonable and our military budget is still so very, very small."

Meanwhile, the US State Department adopted a non-committal stance on Tuesday to reports that China will hike its defense budget.

China has a program of military modernization, we monitor that program closely, particularly with regard to its impact on regional peace and stability," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

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