China will raise defense spending “about 7 percent” this year as it guards against “outside meddling” in its disputed regional territorial claims, a top official said yesterday, in an apparent reference to Washington.
Just days after US President Donald Trump outlined plans to raise US military spending by about 10 percent, Chinese National People’s Congress spokeswoman Fu Ying (傅瑩) told reporters that Chinese expenditures will depend on US actions in the region.
“We call for a peaceful settlement through dialogue and consultation [of the territorial disputes]. At the same time we need the ability to safeguard our sovereignty and interests and rights,” Fu told a news conference ahead of the rubber-stamp parliament session. “In particular, we need to guard against outside meddling in the disputes.”
The annual news briefing comes a day ahead of today’s opening of the congress.
Fu did not specify what “meddling” she was referring to, but Beijing’s increasingly assertive stance towards its claims in the South and East China seas have stirred alarm in the region and prompted criticism from Washington.
The planned spending increase is in line with last year, when the government said last year’s outlays would increase by 6.5 to 7 percent.
Last year’s figure marked the first time in six years that spending growth did not rise into double figures.
China is engaged in a decades-long build-up and modernization of its once-backward armed forces as it seeks military clout commensurate with its economic might.
However, its military capabilities remain modest compared with the US, Fu said, adding that concerns about the country’s military buildup are unwarranted.
“China has never caused harm to anyone, to any country,” she said.
However, recent reports that Beijing might be militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea have raised concerns in Washington, which has long argued China’s activities in the region threaten freedom of navigation through the strategically vital waterways, sending ships and aircraft to pass close to the growing islands.
Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have contested Beijing’s claims.
Recent satellite imagery indicates China is completing structures intended to house surface-to-air missiles on a series of such artificial landmasses, the Washington think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said last week.
Future trends in the region “will depend on US intentions vis-a-vis the region and US activities [which] to a certain extent set the barometer for the situation here,” Fu said. “Probably fundamentally the US is concerned that China may catch up with it in terms of capability, but we are a developing country. There is a huge gap between China and the US in capability.”
Chinese state media recently said that China was testing the latest version of its fifth-generation stealth fighter, part of a campaign to end the West’s monopoly on the world’s most advanced warplanes.
China also for the first time sent its sole aircraft carrier into the Pacific Ocean for exercise in December last year, according to Chinese reports.
Barthelemy Courmont, a senior Research Fellow at the Paris-based French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs said it was understandable that a modernizing China would seek more advanced armed forces.
However, “this development also reflects Beijing’s ambition to impose its supremacy over Asia by giving itself the means of being a credible power,” he said.
He said that the territorial tensions were leading to a “senseless arms race” in the region. “It’s often in reaction to China’s spending increases that neighboring countries also decide to strengthen their military capacities,” he said.
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