The Chinese Ministry of Finance yesterday said that the country’s defense budget this year will top 1 trillion yuan (US$145 billion) for the first time, after the exact figure was initially kept out of public documents released at the start of the annual National People’s Congress (NPC) sessions.
The ministry put the figure at 1.044 trillion yuan (US$151 billion), a 7 percent increase from last year, marking the smallest percentage annual growth rate this century.
A ministry information officer told reporters that the exact figure had already been released to the almost 3,000 delegates to the annual congress.
However, he did not say why it had been withheld from the budget report, where it usually appears. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying (傅瑩) on Saturday told reporters the budget would increase about 7 percent this year over last year.
The US and others have routinely asked China to be more forthcoming about the goals of its ambitious military modernization program, under which the budget has grown by double-digit percentages for most of the past two decades.
Other observers say actual military spending could be considerably higher because China does not include certain items such as the purchase of armaments from overseas.
China has the world’s second-largest defense budget, although it is still only about one-quarter of what the US spends. It has never provided a breakdown on how the money is spent, although it says most goes to improving living conditions for the troops.
Military analyst Ni Lexiong (倪樂雄) at Shanghai’s University of Politics and Law said the modest growth rate of 7 percent demonstrates China’s goodwill in avoiding conflicts and supporting regional stability.
It “shows China’s sincerity of peace to the world,” he added.
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