China on Saturday increased its defence budget by 7.6 per cent to USD 146 billion for this year, citing militarisation of the Asia-Pacific, especially the disputed South China Sea, and deepening tensions with the US.
The increase is the lowest in defence spending in six years in the wake of economic slowdown. China’s GDP growth last year declined to the lowest in 26 years to 6.9 per cent.
Defending the increase in defence budget, National People’s Congress (NPC) spokesperson Fu Ying blamed US for the militarisation of the Asia-Pacific, especially the South China Sea (SCS), which in recent months has become new theatre of conflict between the two countries.
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Some people have connected China with SCS issue and militarisation of the region. The issue of militarisation has been hyped up and misleading, she said.
China claims almost the whole of the resource-rich South China Sea (SCS). Its claim, however, is strongly contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
In October, USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island China is building in the Spratly Islands.
China strongly protested the move, saying the the US act severely violated Chinese law, sabotaged the peace, security and good order of the waters, and undermined the region’s peace and stability.
According to a budget report to the national legislature annual session, the government plans to raise the 2016 defence budget by 7.6 per cent to 954 billion yuan (about USD 146 billion).
The new increase, lower than last year’s 10.1 per cent, widens the gap further with the Indian defence budget which stood around USD 40 billion.
“Talking about the militarisation if we look at the advanced aircraft and ships entering the area, majority of them from US,” Ying said, adding that it was America which decided to deploy 70 per cent of its naval assets under its Asia Pivot strategy.
“Isn’t it militarisation?” Ying asked in reply, adding that by wrongly accusing China’s militarisation in the waters is misleading.
“Most of Chinese lawmakers and ordinary people are not pleased and do not agree with the US showing off military power by sending warships to waters close to the SCS islands and reefs,” she said.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who presented a word report to this year’s inaugural session, proposed a 6.5 per cent target for the GDP this year. It would, however, break a multi-year run of double-digit increases in China’s defence budget, and mark the slowest growth in six years.
The raise will make the world’s second largest economy the second largest defence spender, both next to the US.
Obama proposed a SD 534-billion defense budget package for the 2016 fiscal year, about 3.6 times China’s budget this year. This year’s new increase will do little to close that gap, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.