BEIJING, Mar 4 – China announced its latest double-digit rise in defence spending on Wednesday but insisted its expanding military posed no external threat despite concerns in Asia and the United States.
The defence budget will grow 14.9 percent for 2009, a parliament official said, maintaining a string of double-figure annual increases despite a punishing slowdown in the Chinese economy due to the global financial crisis.
The defence budget has been set at 480.7 billion yuan (70.2 billion dollars), up 62.5 billion yuan from the previous year, said Li Zhaoxing, spokesman for the National Peoples’ Congress.
"China’s defence expenditure for the year will increase modestly," Li, a former foreign minister, told a news conference.
Although the rise is slightly smaller than last year’s increase of 17.9 percent, it marks a doubling of China’s stated defence spending since 2006.
The United States, Japan and their allies have long expressed concern about China’s military build-up and what they see as a lack of transparency on the intent behind the expansion.
Many experts also say China’s official figure vastly downplays actual spending.
But Li, speaking at a parliamentary press conference ahead of Thursday’s opening of the annual legislative session, said such concerns were misplaced.
"China’s limited military powers will be solely used for the purpose of safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.
"This will not pose a threat to any country."
Li emphasised the spending was small for China’s population and national territory, accounting for 1.4 percent of its gross domestic product.
This compared to 4.0 percent for the United States and 2.0 percent for the United Kingdom and France, he said.
Li said the increase was aimed in large part at ensuring that living standards for its estimated 2.3 million servicemen and women rise with the rest of society.
However, it would also be used to upgrade the military’s information technology and its ability to engage in disaster response and anti-terror missions, he said.
Military facilities damaged by a massive earthquake last May in southwest China must also be repaired, Li added.
"There is no such thing as a hidden military expenditure in China," he said.
However, the budget figure has "little association with reality", said Ralph Cossa, head of the Honolulu-based Pacific Forum of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
He said actual spending could be three to four times larger.
"The question is: What’s included in the figure? The transparency of what China is spending this money on is what is really hard to gauge," he told AFP.
The Pentagon in recent years has raised concerns about China’s development of cruise and ballistic missiles, its 2007 test of a satellite-killing weapon, an apparent rise in cyber-espionage by China’s military and other issues.
"The real question is where is China’s military development going?" Cossa said.
"What are its objectives? How many nuclear missiles does it have now and does it plan to have? Things like that."
China typically argues it poses no threat to other countries and alleges some in the West want to manufacture a "China threat."