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China to Boost Military Budget by 10%  03/04 06:23

   BEIJING (AP) -- China's official military budget will grow by about 10 
percent in the coming year, a legislative spokeswoman said Wednesday, amid 
unease among Beijing's neighbors about its growing might and territorial 
ambitions.

   The increase to about $145 billion in spending would mark the fifth year in 
a row of double-digit increases despite the country's slowing economic growth, 
which fell to 7.4 percent last year from 7.7 percent the previous year.

   The spending reflects China's growing power and desire to assert itself in 
the region and globally. However, Beijing says the bigger budgets are only 
aimed at modernizing and improving conditions for the 2.3 million-member 
People's Liberation Army, the world's largest standing military.

   "China has a tougher road to travel than other large nations in terms of 
national defense modernization. We can only rely on ourselves for research and 
development of most of our military technology," legislative spokeswoman Fu 
Ying said.

   "Meanwhile, we need to ceaselessly improve conditions for our soldiers," Fu 
said.

   Fu told a news conference that China's military posture remains strictly 
defensive and that it has never used "gunboats" to advance its trade interests.

   Despite such assurances, neighboring countries have increased their own 
military spending in part to counter China's rise.

   In the past several years, Chinese and Japanese ships have frequently 
confronted each other near a set of contested East China Sea islands. China and 
India also have a disputed border high in the Himalayas.

   China also has disputes with several neighbors over territory in the South 
China Sea, where U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said last 
week that Beijing is expanding outposts as part of an "aggressive" effort to 
assert sovereignty.

   Japan increased its defense budget by 2.8 percent this year to a record $42 
billion, the third consecutive year of increases following 11 years of declines 
prior to hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's rise to power in 2012. Planes and 
naval vessels to counter China's growing capabilities top the Japanese 
military's shopping list.

   Even more dramatically, India, the world's biggest arms importer in recent 
years, increased its spending this year by 11 percent to $40 billion, with big 
increases for its navy and air force. New Delhi has expressed concern not only 
about the disputed land border, but also about the Chinese navy's growing 
presence in the Indian Ocean.

   China's official military spending is still less than a third of the U.S. 
defense budget, a proposed $534 billion this year along with $51 billion for 
the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. But it comes against a background 
of anticipated flat or falling American spending on its armed forces in coming 
years.

   The Pentagon and global arms bodies estimate China's actual military 
spending may be anywhere from 40 to 50 percent more because the official budget 
doesn't include the costs of high-tech weapons imports, research and 
development, and other key programs.

   Neighboring countries have come to expect Chinese defense increases, said 
Alexander Neill, a senior fellow for Asia-Pacific security for the 
International Institute for Strategic Studies.

   "There's the expectation that it's not likely to plateau in the next few 
years, but will generally sit around that level commensurate with the PLA's 
reform and modernization goals," Neill said.

   China's low inflation could make this year's increase close to or bigger in 
real terms than rises in recent years, when rapid price increases eroded the 
military's buying power.

   The planned increase of about 10 percent --- to be confirmed Thursday at the 
opening of the National People's Congress's annual session --- is in line with 
the overall increase in government spending planned for 2015, NPC spokeswoman 
Fu said.

   Last year's increase was 12.2 percent.

   China's neighbors may gain a degree of reassurance from the dip in the 
growth rate, said Ni Lexiong, a military expert at Shanghai's University of 
Political Science and Law.

   Growth of less than 10 percent would likely "be not enough" to meet the 
PLA's modernization goals, Ni said.

   China is seeking to improve conditions for the military amid rising labor 
costs and competition with the private sector for top graduates in science and 
technology.

   The need for ever-more sophisticated weaponry is also increasing the costs, 
with the addition of an aircraft carrier combat wing, the roll-out of two 
prototype stealth fighters and cruise missiles that fly faster than the speed 
of sound.

   The PLA's traditional mandate had been to guard China's borders and prepare 
for contingencies involving Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing has 
pledged to take control of, by force if necessary.

   However, newer missions, including U.N. peacekeeping operations, are taking 
China's military much further afield. China is also poised to pass an 
anti-terrorism law that could authorize the sending of military forces overseas 
to take part in anti-terror missions if granted permission by the host nation.

   China's forces, under the control of the Communist Party, are seen as being 
hampered by political interference, and top commanders have lately come under 
scrutiny as part of a nationwide crackdown on corruption.

   Already, President Xi Jinping has overseen the arrests of two top generals, 
including the military's retired No. 2 officer, Xu Caihou. This week, officials 
announced that 14 other top officers are under investigation or have been 
convicted of crimes such as selling ranks, embezzling funds or taking kickbacks 
on housing contracts.

   While harming morale among some officers, the anti-graft drive could bring 
benefits to the military through a reduction of waste and losses from 
corruption, said Shanghai expert Ni.

   "We don't know the exact figures, but a great deal of money will be saved 
and spent wisely on the development of the military, which is of great 
significance," Ni said.


(KA)


 
 
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