China's defence splurge good for world peace, no threat to anyone: State media

BEIJING (AFP) - The latest double-digit increase to China's defence budget serves world peace and is no threat to anyone, state media argued on Thursday after the 12.2 per cent spending hike raised alarms in Japan.

"China has no intention of overturning the current international security pattern," the Global Times, which is close to the ruling Communist Party, said in an editorial. "China will never seek to grab hegemony."

The government-run China Daily said in its editorial: "World peace needs a militarily stronger China", adding that narratives which put China in a "bully's role" were "completely against the truth".

Beijing is embroiled in a series of territorial disputes with Japan and other Asian states, and has pursued its claims more assertively in recent years.

On Wednesday, the opening day of the Communist-controlled National People's Congress (NPC) legislative meeting, Beijing announced a rise in the People's Liberation Army budget for 2014 to 808.23 billion yuan (S$167 billion).

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".

Japan's liberal Asahi Shimbun newspaper noted Thursday that Beijing's defence spending was "triple" that of Tokyo's.

"China's military expansion is not stopping," it said in an editorial.

"What is the purpose of this accelerating military expansion? It's no surprise that the international community has strong concerns."

The conservative mass circulation Yomiuri warned that "the rapid military buildup under Xi Jinping will amplify the 'China threat' theory".

The Chinese defence spending figure is still far short of the US$633 billion (S$803.3 billion) approved for 2014 by the United States, by far the global leader.

But analysts believe China's actual defence spending is significantly higher than publicised.

"China will not stop increasing its military spending," the Global Times said. "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."

It added that China's military spending should exceed Japan's "to a large extent".

"We should have an absolute advantage over Japan in terms of naval and air forces and strategic striking capabilities, as Japan has shielding from its military alliance with the US," the paper said.

"China's annual military spending has exceeded Russia, but has China acquired greater military strength than Russia? Obviously no."

This year's official rise is the largest since 2011. The China Daily said Beijing 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," it wrote. "At the same time, more security threats are sprouting up in its immediate neighbourhood."

China's official Xinhua news agency dismissed international concerns in a bylined commentary Thursday, arguing that "it is Washington and Tokyo, instead of Beijing, that should explain to the world their military postures and intentions".

Overseas worries were "unfounded and misplaced", it said, adding that accusing China of complicating the security situation "amounts to a gross perversion of truth".