BEIJING, China, Mar 5 – China unveiled a fresh double-digit spending boost for its military on Thursday with a 10.1 percent increase in 2015, as it is embroiled in a series of territorial disputes with its neighbours.
Beijing plans to raise its military spending to 886.9 billion yuan ($141.4 billion), according to a budget report to the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the communist-controlled legislature.
The figure is a five year low, but China has for years been raising spending on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in double-digit steps, flexing its military and economic might as it asserts its claims in a series of rows with Japan and others.
This year’s increase comes after a 12.2 percent stated rise last year, and is the lowest since 2010’s 7.5 percent, official data show.
But analysts believe spending is significantly higher than publicised, with the Pentagon estimating it at between $135 billion and $215 billion in 2012, and Tokyo called Thursday for “increased transparency” on China’s military.
“This may be the lowest increase for five years, but it is pretty much in line with the kind of increases they have had in the last 20,” said Richard Bitzinger, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
“On average they have been about 12 or 13 percent,” he added, “and I don’t see any kind of slowing down in this for at least another 10 years.”
In his speech opening the NPC, Premier Li Keqiang said that “building a solid national defence and strong armed forces is fundamental to safeguarding China’s sovereignty”.
Beijing will “resolutely safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests” and “move closer to achieving the goal of building China into a maritime power”, he told delegates in the Great Hall of the People
Beijing maintains that its military — the world’s largest — is aimed at securing peace rather than engaging in disputes with its neighbours over territory in the East and South China Seas.
China has been involved in occasionally tense confrontations with Japan and the Philippines over maritime disputes, generating fears that the rows could result in armed clashes.
Tokyo’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters: “Countries including Japan are keenly interested in increased transparency of China’s defence policies, including defence spending, as well as its military capability.”