China defence budget to rise 10.7 per cent in 2013; slightly slower pace of increase

BEIJING (AFP) - China announced a further double-digit rise in its defence budget on Tuesday, as Beijing remains embroiled in a series of territorial disputes with its neighbours.

"China plans to raise its defence budget by 10.7 per cent to 720.2 billion yuan (S$144 billion) in 2013, according to a government report to be reviewed by the National People's Congress (NPC), the Chinese parliament.

The pace of the increase represents a slight slowdown from the 11.2 per cent figure announced in 2012 and 12.7 per cent the year before, but is part of a trend of substantial rises that have come alongside strong economic growth.

China's military spending has triggered concern across Asia and in Washington, with experts saying the totals actually spent are substantially higher than those publicly announced.

The increases are a particularly sensitive topic in neighbouring countries as China takes a more assertive stance on long-simmering territorial rows.

Beijing and Tokyo have both scrambled jets near disputed islands in the East China Sea administered by Tokyo but claimed by China. Beijing is also at odds with several Southeast Asian countries over islets in the South China Sea.

Last year, the navy took delivery of its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and it has also developed stealth fighter and anti-satellite capabilities.

Dr Arthur Ding, an expert on China's military at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, said that the double-digit growth was not surprising given the country's rapid economic rise and upgrading of its armed forces.

"On the one hand, China's economic growth rate is able to afford such double-digit growth," he said.

"On the other hand, across-the-board modernisation and development of defence systems... require massive investment," he said, citing warships, jet fighters, an aircraft carrier and an anti-satellite system.

"It will take a tremendous amount of money."

Tuesday's report said that in addition to ensuring national security, the budget would go towards making the military more "information-based" and improving the lives of personnel.

"Funds will be used to support efforts to improve the working and living conditions of officers and enlisted personnel, make the armed forces more mechanised and information-based," it said.

In a departure from normal practice, the legislature had declined to announce the 2013 defence budget at a press conference on Monday, when NPC spokesman Fu Ying responded with frustration when she was asked about the topic.

"It seems China has to explain every year to the outside world why we should strengthen national defence and why we should increase the military budget," she said.

Ms Fu, a vice-foreign minister and former ambassador to Britain, added: "China's national defence policy has always been peaceful and defensive."

"We strengthen national defence to defend ourselves and to protect security and peace, but not to pose a threat to other countries."