x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

China continues rise in military spending

Although the planned figure is less than last year's 12.7 per cent increase, China's military leaders have said they are unhappy with recent moves by the Obama administration to increase the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

China's official defence spending is the largest in the world after the United States.
China's official defence spending is the largest in the world after the United States.

BEIJING // China said yesterday it would boost its defence spending by 11.2 per cent in 2012, the latest in a nearly two-decade string of double-digit increases.

Although the planned figure is less than last year's 12.7 per cent increase, China's military leaders have said they are unhappy with recent moves by the Obama administration to increase the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Only twice since the early 1990s has the increase been less than double digits.

National People's Congress spokesman, Li Zhaoxing, said China's defence spending would increase by 11.2 per cent over actual spending last year to hit 670.2 billion yuan (Dh390.69bn) in 2012, an increase of about 67bn yuan.

China's official defence spending is the largest in the world after the United States, but actual spending, according to foreign defence experts, may be 50 per cent higher, as China excludes outlays for its nuclear missile force and other programmes.

Mr Li, speaking at a news conference a day before the opening of the annual session of the congress, said China's military spending was small as a percentage of gross domestic product compared to other countries, especially the United States.

"China is committed to the path of peaceful development and follows a national defence policy that is defensive in nature," Mr Li said. "You see, China has 1.3 billion people, a large territory and long coastline, but our defence spending is relatively low compared with other major countries."

Last year's military spending amounted to 1.28 per cent of China's economy, Mr Li said. By contrast, the ratio stood at 4.8 per cent for the US in 2010, according to the World Bank.

The increase in defence spending is part of China' long-term military modernisation process, but also is partly spurred by US President Barack Obama's new emphasis on the Asia-Pacific, said Sarah McDowall, a senior analyst at IHS Jane's, a London-based security consultancy.

"It is important to note that Beijing views itself as reacting to the increasingly assertive policies of other countries and has repeatedly said that it does not want to provoke military confrontation," Ms McDowall said in a news release.

Beijing has mounted a robust defence build-up for more than two decades that has transformed the military into a formidable regional force, increasingly able to project power far from China. While chiefly aimed at the US, the build-up is also jangling nerves among India and neighbours Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, which have maritime disputes with China.

Mindful of the unease the burgeoning military has created among its neighbours and the opportunity it has given the United States to raise its profile in the region, Mr Li repeated several times that China's intentions are peaceful and defensive.

"China's limited military strength is aimed at safeguarding sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity and will not pose a threat to other countries," he said.

With the huge outlays, the Chinese military's armory include the home-built J-10 jet fighter, new nuclear submarines and modern surface vessels armed with supersonic anti-ship missiles.

Last year, China began testing a new J-20 stealth fighter and launched sea trials of its first aircraft carrier, a refurbished hulk purchased from Ukraine. Cyber-warfare programmes are also burgeoning.

While Beijing insists its military is defensive and is not a threat, defence analysts say the new capabilities are aimed at keeping foreign forces, especially the US, out of the seas and airspace around China.

The South China Sea has become a new potential flash point, with Beijing's more powerful navy and an assertive policy to defend contested claims to groups of islands, reefs and atolls, and the US has declared its own interest in making sure sea lanes remain open.

Growing Chinese power and East Asia's economic importance is driving neighbouring countries to boost defence spending and has prompted the US to redirect defence resources to the region.

Washington's moves to rotate new troops to Australia, shore up alliances with other traditional allies Japan and the Philippines while forging new military ties to Vietnam has heightened Beijing's fears of encirclement.