NPC 2018: China raises military budget by 8.1% in face of 'profound changes' to national security environment

Soldiers of the People's Liberation Army raising the Chinese national flag during a parade at the Zhurihe military training base in Inner Mongolia on July 30, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - China will increase military spending by 8.1 per cent this year, the largest rise in three years, as it sees major shifts in its national security environment.

The national defence budget will grow to 1.11 trillion yuan (S$231 billion), according to its latest budget released on Monday (Mar 5).

"Faced with profound changes in the national security environment, we must treat the (Chinese Communist) Party's goal of building a stronger armed forces for the new era as our guide," said Premier Li Keqiang, without elaborating on what the changes were.

Efforts to strengthen the People's Liberation Army (PLA), improve its mobilisation system and ensure military-government relations are "always strong as stone" will also continue, said Mr Li in his work report at the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC), or parliament.

Beijing's decision to boost the rise in military spending reversed a 2015 decision to more closely match spending on its armed forces with slower gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

This decision came after the country's GDP grew at its slowest pace in 24 years.

China's military spending grew by 10.1 per cent in 2015, 7.6 per cent in 2016, and 7 per cent last year.

On Monday, Mr Li highlighted the extensive experience in non-conventional areas that the PLA - and in particular its navy - has accrued in recent years.

"We have undertaken major missions involving the protection of maritime rights, countering terrorism and maintaining stability, disaster rescue and relief, international peacekeeping, escort services in the Gulf of Aden, and humanitarian rescue," he said.

Since taking office in 2012, President Xi Jinping has enacted unprecedented reforms to the command structure of the PLA, as well as an ambitious modernisation drive to improve its warfighting capabilities.

Chinese experts told The Straits Times that while China's neighbours may worry about increased military spending, it has to be seen in context.

The rise is within "a rational range" given that China's overall budget is projected to grow by 8.5 per cent, said Professor Jin Canrong, associate dean of Renmin University of China's School of International Studies.

And while it has the second largest defence budget in the world, spending remains leagues behind that of the United States, said Fudan University international relations professor Shen Dingli.

Last month (Feb), the US Congress approved a record Pentagon budget of US$716 billion (S$944 billion) for 2019.

The US has in recent months issued strategy documents calling China a "revisionist power" seeking to remake the world order. China has slammed this characterisation, and sharply criticised the US for its "Cold War mentality".

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