China's defence spending to grow by 7.1% this year

China has grown its military arsenal in recent years, including improving its advanced strike capabilities such as hypersonic weapons. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - China's defence spending will grow at a faster rate this year, as Beijing faces growing threats to its security in the region.

Military spending will go up by 7.1 per cent to 1.45 trillion yuan (S$312 billion), a faster pace of increase compared with last year's 6.8 per cent, according to figures from China's budget released on Saturday (March 5).

The numbers, announced each year at the opening of China's annual legislative meetings known as the Two Sessions or lianghui, are closely watched as a barometer of how Beijing will expand its military capabilities.

Premier Li Keqiang said in his work report on Saturday that China would enhance its military training and combat readiness, "move faster to modernise the military's logistics and asset management systems, and build a modern weaponry and equipment management system".

China has grown its military arsenal in recent years, including improving its advanced strike capabilities such as hypersonic weapons.

It is dealing with what it sees as an increasingly hostile regional environment - with the United States seeking to counter China's growing strength with security pacts like the trilateral Aukus, which also includes Australia and Britain.

Mr Li told the nearly 2,800 lawmakers at the Great Hall of the People in the capital of Beijing on Saturday that it is necessary to strengthen China's armed forces to safeguard its "sovereignty, security and development interests".

The growth of China's defence spending has been trending upwards since the start of the pandemic, when it dipped to 6.6 per cent. 

Associate research fellow James Char of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said that this year's defence spending growth did not come as a surprise since the military budget is "subordinated to, and coordinated with annual GDP (gross domestic product) growth".  

Mr Li on Saturday set a target of around 5.5 per cent GDP growth this year. But last year, the Chinese economy grew by 8.1 per cent - its best performance in a decade - as it rebounded from the pandemic. 

Seen in this context, the "slight increase in its defence budget would also appear less menacing to regional defence planners", Mr Char said. 

He added that a major part of the military budget this year would likely be spent on research and development, and procurement of hardware, as China advances its military modernisation drive. 

"The Communist Party and People's Liberation Army leaders both view Washington as their primary adversary and know that the US military poses the greatest challenge to China's great power ambitions in the region," he said.

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