China is often seen as becoming increasingly assertive in the Asia Pacific as double-digit economic growth allows it to expand and modernise its military.
Beijing sharply increases defence budget
BEIJING // China has signalled a return to double-digit defence spending increases, announcing yesterday its military budget will grow 12.7 per cent in 2011.
This year's rise contrasts sharply with the spending rise for 2010 of just 7.5 per cent, the lowest figure for two decades.
Analysts said this year's increase of 67.6 billion yuan (Dh37.8bn), bringing the total defence budget to 601bn yuan, would partly be eaten up by higher salaries.
However, China is often seen as becoming increasingly assertive in the Asia Pacific as double-digit economic growth allows it to expand and modernise its military.
Beijing picked a fight with Tokyo last year over disputed islands in the East China Sea, and also criticised joint US-South Korean naval exercises in the region.
The country is pressing ahead with its first aircraft carrier, which could take to the waters this year. Its new-generation J-20 stealth fighter took its first test flight in January while the United States defence secretary, Robert Gates, was visiting China.
"This [year's defence increase] is the normal rate of growth in defence expenditure in China," said Joseph Cheng, a professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong.
"Last year was the exception, probably because of the financial tsunami and the money had to be spent on the domestic economic stimulus package."
As China aims for a modern defence force that relies on technology rather than simple manpower, it must increase wages for military officers to improve retention, Dr Cheng said.
He suggested this would account for some of the budget rise, although he acknowledged projects such as the aircraft carrier would increase the "threat perception" among neighbours.
Previous estimates from the US Pentagon have suggested China's actual military spending could be nearly twice the announced figure, with some research and development programmes, for example, categorised separately.
However, Beijing's spending remains a fraction of the Pentagon's budget of $553bn.
Speaking in Beijing earlier this week, the defence analyst Jonathan Holslag, a research fellow at the Institute of Contemporary China Studies at Vrije University, Brussels, said China was particularly expanding its naval capability to counter "a consolidation of American naval presence" in the Asia Pacific.
The Chinese military, he said, "appeals to nationalism" to secure spending increases. Many of China's neighbours, including India, are also posting heavy defence spending rises, something commentators have attributed to concerns over China's growing firepower.