China boosts defence spending amid military modernisation

Sculptures of the late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong are placed in front of a souvenir plate featuring a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping at a shop in Beijing

The 2018 defence budget will be 1.11 trillion yuan ($175 billion), according to a report issued at the opening of the country's annual meeting of parliament.

"We will stick to the Chinese path in strengthening our armed forces, advance all aspects of military training and war preparedness, and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests", Prime Minister Li Keqiang said in a report to the legislature.

"Due to cooperation between all interested parties, we completed the task of reducing the army by 300,000 people", Li added.

"With a defence policy that is defensive in nature, the development of China will pose no threat to any other country", he said.

China also set its consumer price index at "around 3 percent" compared with 3 percent past year, as widely expected.

While expected, the spending increase will further unnerve China's regional rivals. The 8.1% increase is higher than last year's announcement, when China upped military spending by 7% over the previous year. That would leave the People's Liberation Army's strength at around 2 million troops.

China's defense budget takes up a smaller share of its gross domestic product (GDP) and national fiscal expenditure compared with other major countries, said Zhang Yesui, spokesperson for the first annual session of the 13th NPC, at a press conference on Sunday.

While the figure equals about one-quarter of US outlays, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that China's actual spending is about 55 percent more than officially stated.

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"China should take worldwide concerns seriously, increase its defence budget's transparency and give up its targeted military deployment towards Taiwan in order to avoid an escalation of regional tension", it said.

The unchanged growth target was "fitting", China said, as its economy was moving from a phase of "rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development" and would allow it to "achieve relatively full employment", BBC reported.

New funds are going mainly to raise living standards for service members, increase training and prepare for potential crises on the Korean Peninsula, the border with India or in the South China Sea or Taiwan Strait, Song said.

The latest cuts are an extension of China's tax reforms since 2013, when the government alleviated more than 3 trillion yuan in taxes and fees on companies, a process Li cited as vital to improve the country's competitiveness and protect entrepreneurship. It is modernizing its military by producing aircraft carriers and advanced fighter jets. The Chinese Navy also expanded its global reach with flotilla ships sailing through the far-off oceans to expand China's influence.

But Chinese officials and analysts played down the threat.

Li said that China will tailor measures to individuals and individual households to ensure that targeted poor populations, including elderly people, people with disabilities, and people with serious diseases, receive the assistance they need.

"The smell of gunpowder is growing thicker", he said.

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