Chinese minority delegates from Yunnan leave after the first session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing. (AFP)
Beijing/Hong Kong, March 5 (Reuters): China announced its biggest rise in military spending in three years today, a strong signal from President Xi Jinping that Beijing is not about to back away from its growing assertiveness in Asia, especially in disputed waters.
The government said it would increase the defence budget by 12.2 percent this year to 808.23 billion yuan ($131.57 billion), as China seeks to develop more high-tech weapons and to beef up coastal and air defences.
The increase follows a nearly unbroken run of double-digit hikes in the Chinese defence budget, second only to the US in size, for the past two decades. “This is worrying news for China’s neighbours, particularly for Japan,” said Rory Medcalf, a regional security analyst at the independent Lowy Institute in Sydney.
Those who thought Xi might prefer to concentrate on domestic development over military expansion in a slowing economy had “underestimated the Chinese determination to shape its strategic environment”, he added.
The 2014 defence budget is the first for Xi, the “princeling” son of a late Communist Party elder, and the increase in spending appears to reflect his desire to build what he calls a strong, rejuvenated China.
Xi also recently urged China’s military leadership to work faster to get the country’s sole aircraft carrier combat-ready.
The spending jump is the biggest since a 12.7 per cent rise in 2011. Within hours of the announcement, officials in Japan and Taiwan expressed disquiet over the absence of any details on how Beijing will spend the money, concerns long echoed in Washington.
China’s military is not made up of “boy scouts with spears”, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a briefing in response to Japan’s criticism.
“Some foreigners always expect China to be a baby scout,” Qin said. “In that way, how can we safeguard national security and world peace?”
Speaking at the opening of China’s annual session of parliament, Premier Li Keqiang said the government would “strengthen research on national defence and the development of new- and high-technology weapons and equipment” and“enhance border, coastal and air defences”.
“We will comprehensively enhance the revolutionary nature of the Chinese armed forces, further modernise them and upgrade their performance, and continue to raise their deterrence and combat capabilities in the information age,” Li told the largely rubber-stamp National People's Congress.