The budget for the world’s second largest military will grow at the slowest rate in six years, with the Chinese government on Saturday pegging the hike at 7.6% as it pushes a modernisation plan that will cut troop levels.
In real terms, the defence budget for 2016 will be 954.354 Yuan or about $147 billion, less than the expected $150 billion, largely because of the devaluation of the Chinese currency in the past one year. In 2015, the increase was 10.1%.
The finance ministry submitted the budget proposals to the National People’s Congress (NPC) or annual parliament on Saturday, with the reduced hike in military spending said to be in line with China’s economic slowdown.
“We will support efforts to deepen the reform of national defence and the armed forces and strengthen the military in all respects so that it’s more revolutionary, modern and standardised. We will promote integrated development of the economy and national defence,” the finance ministry said.
In his work report, Premier Li Keqiang said: “We will strengthen in a coordinated way military preparedness in all fronts and for all scenarios and work meticulously to ensure combat readiness and border, coastal and air defence control.”
President Xi Jinping announced in September that he would cut the strength of the armed forces by 300,000 personnel to make it leaner and more efficient. As the head of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC), Xi is supervising an overhaul of the armed forces from a Soviet-style military to a more modern force.
Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has claimed several former senior officers across the military spectrum.
The state media was quick to support the military budget cut.
“For many Chinese, the first response was a bit of disappointment. But we believe the decision has its reasons. The Chinese economy has been under grave downward pressure. GDP growth was 6.9% last year, the lowest in years. It makes sense that the budget matches economic growth,” the nationalistic Global Times newspaper said in an editorial.
“The Chinese government does not want to irritate other countries and trigger an arms race. Domestically, the government does not want to make its people anxious, as if major military conflicts are pending,” it added.