BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese state-run media backed the country's military spending Thursday, after the government announced a 12.2 per cent increase in its defence budget for 2014.
The plans should not be regarded as evidence of a mounting "China threat", newspapers said, arguing that Beijing's steady raises in the defence budget were rooted in a desire for peace rather than conflict.
Beijing is embroiled in a series of territorial disputes with Japan and other neighbours, and has pursued its claims more assertively in recent years.
China announced Wednesday, on the opening day of its Communist-controlled National People's Congress (NPC), that it plans to spend 808.23 billion yuan (S$167 billion) on the People's Liberation Army for 2014, in the latest double-digit increase.
That figure is still far short of the US$633 billion defence budget for 2014 approved by the United States, the global leader in military spending.
But analysts believe China's actual defence expenditure is significantly higher than publicised.
"China will not stop increasing its military spending", the state-run Global Times wrote in an editorial on Thursday. "It is believed the best scale for it in the long run is keeping it at half or two-thirds of that of the US."
This year's official rise is the largest since 2011, and in its editorial the China Daily newspaper said China was "only making up for what it has neglected to do in the past".
"The current increase is both imperative and legitimate, because China now has broader interests to defend," the paper wrote. "At the same time, more security threats are sprouting up in its immediate neighbourhood."
Beijing's growing military expenditures and capabilities have raised worries in Asia and the US, and Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Wednesday that its lack of transparency on spending "has become a matter of concern for the international community, including Japan".
China's official Xinhua news agency dismissed those concerns in a bylined commentary on Thursday, arguing that "it is Washington and Tokyo, instead of Beijing, that should explain to the world their military postures and intentions".