China announced its biggest rise in military spending in three years yesterday, a strong signal from Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) that Beijing is not about to back away from its growing assertiveness in Asia, especially in disputed waters.
The government said it would increase the defense budget by 12.2 percent this year to 808.23 billion yuan (US$131.57 billion), as China seeks to develop more high-tech weapons and beef up coastal and air defenses.
The increase follows a nearly unbroken run of double-digit hikes in the defense budget for the past two decades.
“This is worrying news for China’s neighbors, particularly for Japan,” said Rory Medcalf, a regional security analyst at the independent Lowy Institute in Sydney.
Those who thought Xi might prefer to concentrate on domestic development over military expansion in a slowing economy had “underestimated the Chinese determination to shape its strategic environment,” he added.
The increase in spending appears to reflect Xi’s desire to build what he calls a strong, rejuvenated China. The spending jump is the biggest since a 12.7 percent rise in 2011.
Within hours of the announcement, officials in Taiwan and Japan had expressed disquiet over the absence of any details on how Beijing will spend the money.
In Taipei, while noting the “substantial” spending increase was needed to modernize China’s military, Ministry of National Defense spokesman Major General David Lo (羅紹和) said much remained hidden.
“The transparency of China’s defense budget has always been questionable, as it is widely seen there are a massive amount of military items hidden,” he said.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said China’s lack of clarity in its defense policy and spending was a global concern.
Speaking at the opening of the National People’s Congress yesterday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) said the government would “strengthen research on national defense and the development of new and high-technology weapons and equipment” and “enhance border, coastal and air defenses.”
He gave no details.