BEIJING: China has hiked its military spending by seven percent to USD 152 billion, about three times higher than that of India, as Beijing braced for countering America's push into the disputed the South China Sea.
After skipping the customary mention of the figures of defence spending in the work report submitted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to lawmakers yesterday, state-run Xinhua news agency today announced that the military budget for this year stands at 1.04 trillion yuan (USD 152 billion).
China's defence budget for 2017 will grow seven per cent from the actual figure in 2016, Xinhua quoted an official with Ministry of Finance as saying today. "The country's military spending this year will stand at 1.04 trillion yuan (about US 152 billion) with 1.02 trillion yuan from the central budget," the Xinhua report said. This is the first time that China's military spending crossed a trillion yuan.
Last year China's military spending was 954.35 billion yuan, a 7.6 percent increase from 2015. China's defence budget is about three times higher than India's USD 53.5 billion. There was no explanation about why the amount of the annual defence spending was not mentioned in Li's annual work report to the National People's Congress (NPC) yesterday.
On March 4, NPC spokesperson Fu Ying said China's defence budget will be increased by seven per cent accounting for 1.3 percent of the country's GDP, compared with NATO members' pledge to dedicate at least two per cent of GDP to defence.
"You should ask them what their intentions are," Fu told reporters, adding that China has "never inflicted harm on other countries."
Chinese officials defended the seven per cent hike this year, saying it is still smaller than the 10 percent increase proposed by President Donald Trump to America's defence budget to take it to about USD 654 billion, the highest in the world. Much of China's budget this year is expected to go for the development of navy as Beijing looks to expand its influence beyond its shores.
China currently has one aircraft carrier and is building another with a third in the planning stage to match the growing strength of the US navy in hot-spots like the South China Sea. The China-US military tensions are on the rise since former American President Barack Obama adopted the 'US pivot to Asia', committing large number of US military forces to be deployed in the Asia-Pacific to counter China's growing military might.
After his election, Trump has sent an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea to assert the freedom of navigation in the area claimed by China. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claim over the South China Sea.
China's military experts say much of the defence expenditure will go for the navy to safeguard the country's fast expanding overseas interests and is a response to the unstable security situation in the Asia-Pacific region.