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China to strengthen defences, no word on budget

By Christian Shepherd and Philip Wen

BEIJING China pledged more support to its military on Sunday including strengthening maritime and air defences amid efforts to safeguard sovereignty, but in a highly unusual move did not give spending figures for 2017 despite promises of transparency.

Parliament’s spokeswoman Fu Ying said on Saturday defence spending for this year would rise about 7 percent, accounting for around 1.3 percent of gross domestic product – the same level as the last few years.

However, the actual defence spending target for this year was not included in the country’s budget released at the opening of parliament’s annual session on Sunday, as it has been in previous years.

“We will support efforts to deepen the reform of national defence and the armed forces, with the aim of building a solid defence and strong armed forces that are commensurate with China’s international standing and are suited to our national security and development interests,” the budget report said.

It did not elaborate.

State news agency Xinhua also did not report the figure. The Defence Ministry and parliament’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last year, with the economy slowing, the defence budget recorded its lowest increase in six years of 7.6 percent, the first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit increases.

Officers attending parliament largely declined to talk to reporters about the budget, much in line with last year when they were instructed to keep complaints about the low rate of the increase to themselves.

“Fu Ying answered this on CCTV yesterday,” major general Li Fengshan told reporters, dismissing questions about where the defence budget figures were.


China’s military build-up has rattled nerves around the region, particularly because it has taken an increasingly assertive stance in its territorial disputes in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and over Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

Giving his annual work report to parliament, Premier Li Keqiang said China would deepen military reforms.

“We will strengthen maritime and air defence as well as border controls and ensure the important operations related to countering terrorism, safeguarding stability, international peacekeeping and providing escorts on the high seas are well organised,” he said.

“We will boost military training and preparedness, so as to ensure that the sovereignty, security, and development interests are resolutely and effectively safeguarded.”

It was not clear why defences numbers were not released. China has repeatedly said its defence spending is transparent.

In a government-arranged interview on Saturday evening, Chen Zhou, a researcher at the Academy of Military Science, said transparency was a “historical process”.

“It’s not that the government says it must not be made transparent. The man on the street believes that if it is said out loud it could influence national security,” he said.

The defence budget figure for last year, 954.35 billion yuan ($138.40 billion), likely understates its investment, according to diplomats, though the number is closely watched around the region and in Washington for clues to China’s intentions.

A 7 percent rise for this year based on last year’s budget would bring the figure to 1.02 trillion yuan, still only a quarter or so of the U.S. defence budget.

The White House has proposed a 10 percent increase in military spending to $603 billion, even though the United States has wound down major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is already the world’s pre-eminent military power.

There were calls last week for China to announce a commensurate rise in defence spending for this year.

“As far as our development is concerned, defence spending is not enough,” Wang Ning, commander of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police, told Reuters on the sidelines of parliament. “Such a large country is facing so many security issues.”

($1 = 6.8954 Chinese yuan)

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jacqueline Wong)