China says defence spending rise to be 'reasonable and appropriate'

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China's 2019 defence spending will rise 7.5 percent from 2018, according to a budget report issued at the opening of the country's annual meeting of parliament this week, a slower rate than last year but still outpacing the economic growth target.
Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the National People's Congress, speaks at a news confence ahead of China's annual session of parliament at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on March 4, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China will keep up a "reasonable and appropriate" increase in defence spending to satisfy its national security and military reforms, a government spokesman said on Monday (March 4), ahead of the release of its defence budget.

China's spending on armed forces is closely watched in Asia and Washington for pointers to its broader strategic intentions amid an impressive modernisation programme that has developed stealth fighters, aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles.

In 2018, China unveiled its largest defence spending increase in three years, setting an 8.1 per cent growth target for the year.

Speaking ahead of parliament's release of the national budget on Tuesday, the legislature's spokesman Zhang Yesui, a former ambassador to Washington, said China had always walked the path of peaceful development.

"Maintaining reasonable and appropriate growth in national defence spending is needed for protecting national security and for military reforms with Chinese characteristics," Mr Zhang said.

China's "limited" defence spending is only for its own security needs and to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and will not threaten other countries, he added.

"Whether a country poses a military threat to other countries depends on its foreign and defence policies, rather than how much its defence spending increases."

Mr Zhang did not elaborate on how much defence spending would rise, as has often been the custom in recent years the day before the legislature opens.

US President Donald Trump has backed plans to request US$750 billion (S$1.01 trillion) from Congress for defence spending in 2019. That compares with the 1.11 trillion yuan (S$223 billion) China set for its military budget in 2018.

Mr Zhang said China only spent about 1.3 per cent of GDP on its military last year, compared with more than 2 per cent for "certain major developed countries".

China gives no breakdown of its defence budget, prompting complaints from neighbours and other military powers that Beijing's lack of transparency has fuelled regional tension. China says it is fully transparent and no threat.

Diplomats and many foreign experts say China's defence numbers probably underestimate true military spending for the People's Liberation Army, the world's largest armed forces, which also run the space programme.

The 2019 figure should be unveiled at Tuesday's opening of the annual session of China's largely rubber-stamp parliament, although, in 2017, it was not initially announced, prompting renewed concerns about transparency.

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