China has announced that its defense budget will increase by 11.2% this year, which has sparked concerns in countries such as the US. Its National People’s Congress, an annual meeting of China’s parliament, will begin today.
Defense budget more than US$100 billion for the first time
On the eve of the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) just yesterday, China announced that its defense budget will see an 11.2% increase this year. This will total to approximately US$110 billion, an amount which has had the US up in arms. This is despite the fact that the growth in military expenditure will be slightly lower than last year’s increase of 12.7%.
Chinese leaders are under pressures to maintain the pace of military spending because of the US’s intentions to increase its military presence within the Asia Pacific region. Just last year, US deployed troops to Australia and Philippines. However, according to Li Zhaoxing, a spokesman for the NPC, “China’s limited military strength is aimed at safeguarding sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity and will not pose a threat to other countries.” Mr. Li also pointed out that China’s military spending had decreased as a proportion of GDP and overall fiscal expenditure. The US, in comparison, has set aside about US$530 billion in defense spending this year although it has a smaller population and a smaller geographical area.
Still, concerns raised over China’s increased military spending are mainly associated with its territorial claims on Taiwan and a significant portion of the South China Sea. The latter puts it in conflict with many other nations, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, which have also made claims on sections of the region. On the other hand, many military experts believe that China’s real defense budget may be as much as 50% higher than the official figure, which purportedly excludes spending on its nuclear-missile force and major weapons systems.
US commander for the Asia-Pacific region Admiral Robert Willard feels that China is “growing bolder with regard to their expanded regional and global presence, and China continues to challenge the United States and [its] partners in the region in the maritime, cyber and space domains.”
Report: Continuing buildup, China boosts military spending more than 11 percent [NY Times, 4 March 2012]
Report: China will boost defense outlays by 11.2% [Wall Street Journal, 4 March 2012]
National People’s Congress and the upcoming presidential elections
This year’s NPC will be the last parliamentary session under the current leadership, which is set to change sometime this August. The meeting will last for 10 days and will begin with a “state of the nation” speech from Premier Wen Jiabao that is set to outline the government’s priorities for the year.
Among many things, the agenda will discuss economic growth and social stability. For one, Wen is expected to set China’s economic growth rate target at 7.5% this year and an inflation target of less than 4%. Issues such as the huge income gap between China’s rich and poor will also be addressed.
The Politburo Standing Committee, a committee that consists of the top leaders in China, will largely be vacated by the time the presidential elections begin. As such, top contenders for positions within the committee are likely to be in attendance at the session. This includes party chiefs from Guangdong Province, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing and Inner Mongolia.
Report: China’s pending change of leaders adds spice to its annual congress [NY Times, 4 March 2012]
Report: China to open annual parliament session [AFP, 5 March 2012]