China’s defence budget will rise by 7% to 8% in 2016, the lowest hike in six years but expected to be enough to push the military outlay over the $150 billion-mark for the first time.
Though the increase for the year 2016-17 is being perceived as modest, it is still more than four times India’s defence budget for the same period.
The lowest hike in the defence budget since 2010 is in line with the slowdown of the economy, a government spokesperson said, adding it reflected China’s defence needs and its fiscal revenue.
Beijing raised its 2015-16 military budget by 10.1%, which in real terms meant it budgeted $141.45 billion for the year. In 2014, it had risen by 12.2%.
“China’s military budget will continue to grow this year but the margin will be lower than last year and the previous years,” said Fu Ying, spokesperson for the National People’s Congress (NPC). “It will be between seven to eight percent.”
China’s actual military spending could be much higher, with experts saying the official budget doesn’t take into account the outlay on strategic forces or research and development of indigenous weapons.
Last month, finance minister Arun Jaitley allocated Rs 2.59 trillion or $36.5 billion for defence, a 0.96% increase over the 2015-16 allocation. But China’s budget is dwarfed by that of the US: Washington’s defence allocation for this year is over $573 billion.
Fu, the spokesperson for the NPC’s annual session, said on Friday the exact figures will be released in a budget report. The NPC is China’s national legislature or parliament and its annual meeting will start on Saturday at the Great Hall of the People.
China’s economy expanded 6.9% year on year in 2015, the slowest in 25 years, weighed down by a property market downturn, falling trade and weak factory activity.
Premier Li Keqiang will unveil the government’s GDP target on Saturday.
“The figure is expected to be in a range between 6.5% and 7%, compared with the ‘approximately 7%’ target announced by Li last year,” official news agency Xinhua reported.
Taking questions at a packed “curtain-raiser” new conference for the NPC session at the Great Hall, Fu touched on a variety of subjects, including the situation in the South China Sea.
“Currently most of the advanced aircraft and warships passing through the SCS belong to the US,” Fu said, adding it was the US and not China which was militarising the region.
“The US said it did not take sides in the South China Sea disputes. However, its acts and rhetoric make people feel that it is raising tensions in the region.
China is locked in disputes with several countries over the ownership of numerous islands in the South China Sea.
Fu described the deployment of missiles and building of airstrips on islands and reefs in the region as part of China building its defence capabilities.
“As the islands and reefs are far from the mainland, they should have defence capacities, but those efforts should not be described as militarisation. If the US is really concerned about regional stability and peace, it should support negotiations between China and neighbouring countries,” Fu said.