Mon, Mar 05, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Chinese military not a threat, NPC spokesman says

NO NUMBERS:Zhang Yesui refused to tell a news conference how big this year’s defense budget is or even provide its growth rate percentage

AP, BEIJING

Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and National People’s Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui speaks during a news conference in Beijing yesterday.

Photo: Bloomberg

China has no desire to overturn the existing international order and its increasingly powerful military does not constitute a threat to others, Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and National People’s Congress (NPC) spokesman Zhang Yesui (張業遂) said yesterday.

In a break with recent practice, Zhang refused to provide a figure for the rate of growth in the national defense budget.

However, he sought to strike a reassuring tone in remarks at a news conference on the eve of the congress’ annual session.

He said China defended and contributed to the UN-centered global order, but also said some reforms were necessary.

“China’s development is conducive to world peace, stability and prosperity,” he said, pointing to global economic growth, trade and poverty reduction.

“As to the international order, we have no intention of overthrowing everything for starting over again,” Zhang said.

Reforms should focus on “international rules that have fallen behind the times and no longer align with the shared aspirations of all nations,” he said.

China’s secretive military had begun to open up a crack in recent years, and the NPC spokesman has made a tradition of responding to a question on the defense budget by announcing the percentage increase over the past years, at least in rough terms.

Zhang did not address the question of numbers, saying instead that past increases by a “modest margin” had gone to equipment upgrades, training and improving welfare and living conditions for troops.

China’s defense spending as a share of GDP and the budget also remains lower than that of other major nations, he said.

“China proceeds from a defense policy that is defensive in nature. China’s development will not pose a threat to other countries,” Zhang said.

The Chinese Ministry of Finance last year said the defense budget would top 1 trillion yuan (US$145 billion) after the exact figure was initially kept out of documents released at the start of the annual legislative sessions.

However, China’s publicly announced defense spending has never been accurate since it omits a significant amount of “off-book” expenditures on defense equipment projects, said Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra.

“What’s alarming is not the non-reporting of largely fictitious defense spending figures so much as the Chinese leadership is shedding even the pretense of being open about its military plans,’’ Jennings said in an e-mail.

Combined with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) plans to eliminate term limits on his rule and his consolidation of control over the military, the lack of public information about defense spending and military planning “pushes China toward a more authoritarian and militarized leadership,” Jennings said.

“These trends should be deeply concerning to the Asia-Pacific region and beyond,” he said.

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