01/21/2009, 00.00
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China will increase military spending, to confront foreign and domestic threats

A program has been announced to make the army more modern and technologically advanced by the middle of the century. The increase in spending is justified by the presence of foreign threats and hostile, secessionist forces, like the Tibetans massacred in March. Warnings to the United States and to Taiwan.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - China will increase its military spending in order to preserve foreign and domestic security, which it maintains is threatened by separatist groups in Tibet, Taiwan, and Xinjiang, and by continued weapons sales by the U.S. to Taiwan. In a "white paper" of almost 100 pages, prepared by the government and released yesterday, Beijing admits that "China's security situation has improved steadily," but adds that "China is encountering many new circumstances and new issues in maintaining social stability."

In the white paper, China emphasizes its intention to use military power solely in a defensive manner, and in order to maintain its "territorial integrity." But it adds that it intends to employ significant resources in order to make its army increasingly modern and technologically advanced, according to a plan of development that is not expect to be completed before the "middle of the century." This is in part in order to confront "the superiority of developed countries economically, scientifically and technologically, as well as militarily."

This reference is primarily to the United States, which "has increased its strategic attention to and input in the Asia-Pacific region, further consolidating its military alliances, adjusting its military deployments and enhancing its military capabilities." Sales of weapons to Taiwan are said to be "causing serious harm to Sino-US relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait." In October, the Pentagon announced sales of 6.5 million dollars worth of weapons to Taiwan - including 32 Apache assault helicopters, 330 Patriot interceptor missiles, and 32 Harpoon missiles, which can be launched from submarines - in spite of China's protests. In presenting the document, Colonel Hu Changming, spokesman of the national defense ministry, said that "China-US military-to-military relations are faced with difficulties," and expressed his hope for the creation of more solid military relations with the new president, Barack Obama.

China considers Taiwan part of its territory, and has always said it is prepared to use force if the island formally declares independence. Hu clarified, however, that relations between Beijing and Taipei have "entered a period of peaceful development" with the election of Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, who is in favor of better relations. Hu also praised the contacts and exchange of information between the armies of the two countries, and the creation of a mechanism of common understanding in order to guarantee security in the area. However, he did not answer the question of whether there has been any reduction in the number of missiles aimed at the island.

Almost by way of response, Lisa Chin, a spokesperson for the Taiwanese defense ministry, said that thanks to better relations with Beijing, a significant reduction in army forces is being considered. The intention is to bring the number of soldiers from 275,000 to 180,000 in 4 years.

Experts observe that Beijing, after the bloody repression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, has increased its military spending every year. China is afraid of mass protests, like the one that took place last March in Tibet, forcibly suppressed by the army. There is explicit reference to the "disruption and sabotage by separatist and hostile forces from the inside," like the Tibetans or the Uyghurs of Xinjiang.

For 2008, declared military spending was 417.769 billion yuan (about 41 billion euros), 17.6% more than in 2007. But experts estimate that actual spending was much higher.

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