China said yesterday its military spending would top US$100 billion this year — a double-digit increase over last year — in a move likely to fuel concerns about Beijing’s rapid military buildup.
The defense budget will rise 11.2 percent to 670.27 billion yuan (US$106.41 billion), National People’s Congress spokesperson Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) said, citing a budget report submitted to the country’s legislature.
The figure marks a slowdown from last year when spending rose by 12.7 percent, but is still likely to fuel worries over China’s growing assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region and push its neighbors to forge closer ties with the US.
Li described the budget as “relatively low” as a percentage of GDP compared with other countries and said it was aimed at “safeguarding sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity.”
“We have a large territory and a long coastline, but our defense spending is relatively low compared with other major countries,” Li told reporters. “It will not in the least pose a threat to other countries.”
China has been increasing its military spending by double digits for most of the past decade, during which time its economy, now the world’s second largest, has grown at a blistering pace.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — the world’s largest with an estimated 2.3 million troops — is hugely secretive about its defense programs, but insists its modernization is purely defensive in nature.
The rapid military buildup has nevertheless set alarm bells ringing across Asia and in Washington, which announced in January a defense strategy focused on countering China’s rising power.
Analysts said the smaller-than-expected increase in spending this year was an attempt by Beijing to ease concerns in the US and the region about its growing military might.
“It is doubtful whether the message will get across because most countries know that the real budget is at least double the published one,” said Willy Lam (林和立), a leading China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Lam said funding for modernizing the country’s military was not included in the published budget, which mostly covered salaries for defense personnel and maintenance of existing equipment.
Money for research and development of modern weaponry “comes from elsewhere,” he said.
Taiwan-based PLA expert Arthur Ding (丁樹範) said the still considerable growth in this year’s budget would push “regional countries to try to build closer ties with the United States.”
“I think the regional countries will be really concerned about that,” Ding said. “China has to explain and try to convince the regional countries why they need such a high growth rate.”
China began revamping the PLA in earnest after a troubled 1979 incursion into Vietnam, when the neighbors vied for influence over Southeast Asia.
China’s defense budget is expected to double between last year and 2015 and outstrip the combined spending of all other key defense markets in the Asia-Pacific region, global research group IHS said last month.