China’s annual defence budget is set to officially cross $150 billion for the first time in 2017, the finance ministry said on Sunday, three times India’s planned defence spending for the fiscal year.
The ministry’s statement came hours after the exact figure for the sector was surprisingly not included in the government work report released earlier in the day.
Speaking to the Associated Press, an unnamed official from China’s finance ministry pegged the defence budget at 1.044 trillion Yuan or $151 billion, a 7% increase from last year’s outlay. The 7% hike was announced by National People’s Congress spokesperson Fu Ying. In comparison, in the fiscal year starting April, India plans to spend 3.6 lakh crore rupees or $51 billion.
Even state media reports said on Saturday that “…the exact figure for the new defence budget is also expected to be released in a budget report the same day (Sunday).”
But it wasn’t.
No reason was offered as to why the budget wasn’t part of the work report – as is the case every year – which was released by Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People to mark the beginning of the annual session of China’s rubber stamp Parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC).
“A ministry information officer told AP the exact figure had already been released to the almost 3,000 delegates to the NPC. But he didn’t say why it had been withheld from the government budget report, where it usually appears,” the news report said.
Beijing would continue to deepen military reforms while upholding the party’s absolute leadership over the armed forces, the government work report said.
China’s defence budget is considerably less than that of the US though the Communist country has the largest armed forces in the world – China defence spending last year accounted for less than a quarter of that of the US.
But the Chinese government has been criticised about not being transparent enough with information about its expenditure in defence sector, which is undergoing a modernisation programme.
Defence analysts say that China’s actual expenditure on defence could be higher because the official budget doesn’t include certain categories of sectoral outlay like arms purchases from abroad
“China's military capacity building will be continued. This is the requirement for safeguarding our national sovereignty and security," Fu Ying, NPC spokesperson said.
“A rise of about 7% in defence budget is basically in keeping with last year's GDP output," Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo of the People's Liberation Army Navy told the official news agency Xinhua.