China defence spending grows as Xi seeks ‘world-class’ force

BEIJING • China said defence spending would increase at the quickest pace in three years, as President Xi Jinping pursues a “world-class” military capable of projecting force further from the country’s coasts.

The central government’s military outlays are expected to rise 8.1% to 1.11 trillion yuan (RM684.13 billion) this year, the Chinese Ministry of Finance said yesterday in its annual report to the national legislative session in Beijing. Last year’s budget called for an increase of 7.1%, the slowest pace since at least 1991.

The spending figure is one of the few pieces of official data available as the US and Asian neighbours seek to gauge the development of the two million-member People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

While the figure equals about one-quarter of US ou lays, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that China’s actual spending is about 55% more than officially stated.

Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the National People’s Congress (NPC), said at a briefing on Sunday that China’s defence spending was proportionate to the size of its economy and budget. The country’s military outlays

were equal to about 1.9% of gross domestic product in 2016, according to Sipri, compared to about 3.3% for the US.

“China is committed to a path of peaceful development and China pursues a defence policy that is defensive in nature,” Zhang said. “China’s development will not pose a threat to other countries.”

“China is continuing its sustained effort to increase the funding for the PLA — and a good part of that increase will go into efforts to improve China’s nuclear forces and projection capabilities,” said Tim Huxley, ED of the International Institute for Strategic

Studies-Asia in Singapore. “We are seeing consistent long-term Chinese investment in the development of military technology, which will increasingly rival or better those of the US and Western countries.”

Premier Li Keqiang said in his opening address to the NPC yesterday that China had “basically completed” its push to reduce the PLA’s ranks. “Our people’s armed forces have achieved a remodelling of their political ecosystem, of the way they are organised, of the structure of their forces, and of their conduct and image,” he said. — Bloomberg