China says defence budget to rise 12.7%
China said on Friday its military spending for 2011 would rise 12.7% over last year, resuming double-digit hikes that have stoked regional disquiet about Beijing's expanding strength.
The increase in spending for the People's Liberation Army is likely to intensify concerns in Taiwan, Japan, India and other parts of Asia where other military forces are jostling against Beijing's expanded arsenal.
Chinese parliamentary spokesman Li Zhaoxing said the increase would bring the defence budget for the year to 601.1 billion yuan ($91.5 billion), compared to 532.1 billion yuan spent on defence in 2010.
The budget went up by just 7.5% in 2010, after long periods of double-digit increases.
Li said the rise was justified and posed no threat.
"China's defence spending is relatively low by world standards," he said.
"China has always paid attention to restraining defence spending."
The Pentagon last month rolled out a record base budget for fiscal year 2012 of $553 billion, up $22 billion from the level enacted for 2010.
Many observers believe China's real military spending is far higher than what it reports.
"The real spend can often be buried elsewhere or not be disclosed at all," said Michael McKinley, a global strategy and international relations expert at the Australian National University's school of international relations.
"These numbers need to be interrogated very closely."
Japan said on Thursday it scrambled military jets this week after Chinese naval airplanes flew near disputed islands in the East China Sea, although the Chinese did not enter Japan's airspace.
The Philippines has also demanded an explanation from China over an incident in a disputed area in the South China Sea in which it says two Chinese patrol boats threatened to ram a survey ship.
Other nations are upgrading their forces in response to China's buildup.
India increased annual defence spending by about 11.6% this week and is shopping for advanced fighter jets, transport aircraft, surveillance helicopters and submarines.
US defence secretary Robert Gates said in January that a US military presence in the Pacific was essential to restrain Chinese assertiveness.
China chose his visit to Beijing to announce it had test-flown a stealth fighter.
China's growing military clout has been accompanied by an increasingly assertive tone in Chinese diplomacy.
Relations between Asia's biggest economies chilled last year when Japan detained the Chinese skipper of a boat that crashed into its ships near disputed isles in the East China Sea, the site of vast potential gas and oil reserves.
China's loud, renewed claims to a vast swathe of waters and mostly uninhabited islets in the South China Sea, along with the expansion of its military presence there, likewise rattled Southeast Asian nations in 2010.
A retired Chinese military officer, Xu Guangyu, said the rise was needed to cope with inflation, which was eating into paychecks and equipment outlays.
"In the next two years the wages of some military personnel will have to rise relatively quickly, because inflation is quite high," said Xu.
"Military equipment, uniforms and logistics are all feeling the pressure of price rises."