China's 2019 defence budget to rise by 7.5%, growth rate lower than last year's 8.1%

Soldiers march at a People's Liberation Army (PLA) base in Hong Kong as part of events marking the 20th anniversary of the city's handover from British to Chinese rule. PHOTO: REUTERS
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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivered this year’s Budget speech – largely aimed at soothing nerves – at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5.

BEIJING - China will increase its defence spending by 7.5 per cent this year to 1.19 trillion yuan (S$240 billion), a slightly slower increase compared to last year's 8.1 per cent.

The spending will help spur defence and military modernisation "across the board" for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and support military reform, according to its latest budget released on Tuesday (March 5) at the opening of China's annual parliamentary session.

Strengthening national defence and continuing reforms to the armed forces will continue to be the top goal for the PLA this year, Premier Li Keqiang said in his work report on Tuesday.

"We will implement the military strategy for the new era, strengthen military training under combat conditions, and firmly protect China's sovereignty, security, and development interests," he said.

Stressing the human element behind the armed forces, China's Ministry of Finance said systems will be improved for the provision of benefits to groups like veterans, and to increase funding for demobilised personnel and to help them transition to civilian jobs.

"We will support the development of China's diplomacy as a major country, fully participate in the reform and development of the global governance system, and stand firm in safeguarding and advancing (China's) national interests," said the report.

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.

At a press conference ahead of the parliamentary session, National People's Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui pointed out that China's defence spending has maintained single-digit growth since 2016, and accounted for 1.3 per cent of GDP last year, while the defence budgets of other major developed countries took up 2 per cent or more.

Nonetheless, China's defence spending growth continued to outstrip the growth in its overall budget. China's government expenditure for 2019 is pegged at 23 trillion yuan, a 6.5 per cent increase compared to 2018.

China's military spending grew by 7.6 per cent in 2016, and 7 per cent in 2017.

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