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China Military Budget to Rise Less Than 8%, Slower Than Usual
As China's economy slows, its military budget will rise by 7.6 percent this year, the lowest increase in six years and less than the double-digit increases that have been the norm for years, the government said Saturday at the opening of the country's annual legislative meeting.
But in comments made ahead of the meeting, Fu Ying, a spokeswoman for China's legislature, the National People's Congress, gave no sign that Beijing would soften its stance on disputes in the South China Sea, and she renewed China's warnings to the United States not to intervene there.
"This year, China's military budget will continue rising, but more slowly compared to the previous few years," Ms. Fu said at a news conference in Beijing on Friday.
The rise of 7.6 percent was revealed in Prime Minister Li Keqiang's annual report to the legislature, and it would increase China's military spending to $146 billion, Xinhua, the state news agency reported.
The last single-digit increase was in 2010, when the military budget grew by 7.5 percent. Last year, the People's Liberation Army's official budget grew 10 percent to about $136 billion, and in 2014 it grew 12.2 percent. From 2005 to 2014, China's official military budget grew an average of 9.5 percent annually, after adjusting for inflation, according to a Pentagon estimate.
"The whole economy is slowing, the pace of G.D.P. growth is slower than before, and military spending, the defense budget, should be in step with the pace of G.D.P.," said Xu Guangyu, a retired People's Liberation Army major general who is now a senior counselor with the state-run China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.
China's economy grew just 6.9 percent in 2015, deepening a deceleration that had been underway for years, and government revenues grew 5.8 percent, more than three percentage points less than in 2014. But the government faces rising costs for health care, social welfare and other civilian outlays.
Dennis J. Blasko, a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel and the author of "The Chinese Army Today," said that China's annual military expenditure was generally kept in line with gross domestic product plus inflation and that a single-digit increase for 2016 was in keeping with that formula.
"This is consistent with the way the economy has been going, and that's the way the military budget has been determined for the last 20 years," Mr. Blasko said. "The whole point is not to overburden the economy with military expenditures."
He said Chinese leaders were also aware that throwing large amounts of money at the military, as the Soviet Union did, is not the way to modernize it. "They look at the example of the Soviet Union, which flushed billions down the drain on the military, and that was the reason for its collapse," Mr. Blasko said.
Mr. Xu, the retired general, said that the lower defense outlays for this year also probably reflected a temporary slowdown in the tempo of equipment modernization and that the pace would pick up again in the coming years.
"There's a certain cycle in developing and producing weapons and equipment," Mr. Xu said. "It fluctuates. It isn't in a straight line."
Ms. Fu on Friday defended China's activities in the South China Sea, where it is in a dispute with the Philippines, Vietnam and other neighbors over rival claims to islands. Beijing has been turning reefs and outcrops in the sea into man-made islands with military outposts, but it says that its intentions are peaceful. Last month, China installed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, about 180 miles southeast of Hainan, a Chinese island province.
Ms. Fu accused the United States of provoking public ire in China by sending naval ships close to islands claimed by Beijing. "This is extremely irritating to Chinese people, who feel disgusted," she said.
"American actions and statements now leave people feeling that it's provoking tense emotions, and it makes people put a big question mark over American motives," Ms. Fu said.
Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said the relatively modest increase in military spending was partly a gesture to mollify China's neighbors about its intentions in the South China Sea — specifically, the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. "They are the pillars of China's diplomacy in the region," Mr. Jin said.
President Obama hosted the leaders of the Southeast Asian countries in California last month, in a move that vexed China, telling them that Washington stood in solidarity with them as they faced growing military and economic challenges.
But Mr. Jin said the slowdown in military spending was also prompted by domestic concerns. He said Beijing was living up to a promise to spend more on social welfare programs to support the poor during China's economic slowdown. "Now is not the correct time to dramatically increase the military budget," he said.
Mr. Jin said it was "very possible" that the People's Liberation Army would be disappointed in the single-digit spending increase, but he noted that the military would continue to see benefits from significant expenditures announced in recent years. "In the coming two or three years China will get a lot of new equipment," he said. "The impact of this slowdown will be five years ahead."
[Source: By Chris Buckley and Jane Perlez, The New York Times, Beijing, 04Mar16]
East China Sea Conflict
|This document has been published on 07Mar16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|