Beijing – In the growing tensions with the US and its neighbors, China is boosting its military spending this year by a strong 8.1 percent. With the rearmament, the defense budget will grow faster than the Chinese economy. The second-largest economy is expected to grow somewhat slower this year at “around 6.5 percent”.
In light of the “big changes in the national security environment,” the armed forces need to be strengthened, Prime Minister Li Keqiang said in his statement of accounts at the opening of the annual meeting of the People’s Congress in Beijing on Monday. The “military training and the readiness for a war” would have to be improved, the PM said in front of nearly 3,000 delegates in the Great Hall of the People. The aim is “to protect national sovereignty, security and development interests with determination.” The official military budget’s 8.1 percent increase to 1.1 trillion yuan (now 128 billion euros) is 7.6 percent higher than in the previous year.
Extent of military spending “really dramatic”
Experts estimate that actual expenditures are still 25 to 50 percent higher because civilian projects also channel money into the army. This is rejected by the Chinese side. There are no “hidden funds”, wrote a representative of the Academy of Military Sciences on the website of the Ministry of Defense. “The speed and extent of the increase is really dramatic,” said defense expert Sam Roggeveen of the Australian National University in Canberra. She is particularly alarming for Australia and many other countries in the region.
The US sees China today alongside Russia as its greatest military challenge – no longer terrorism as before. January’s new US defense strategy describes China as a strategic competitor bullying its neighbors with a “predatory economic policy”. Conflicts are China’s claims in the South and East China Sea and its threats to democratic Taiwan, which sees Beijing as a rogue province. “We will never tolerate separatist intrigues or Taiwan Independence activities,” said Premier Li.