08/01/2007, 00.00
CHINA – TAIWAN
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PLA to prevent Taiwan’s secession

During celebrations marking the PLA’s 80th anniversary, defence minister says China’s military is ready to intervene. President Hu announces defence spending will rise every year to fill gap with the United States.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China will have zero tolerance toward "Taiwan independence" moves, Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan said yesterday during a ceremony marking the PLA’s 80th anniversary. President Hu Jintao also announced that China will continue to increase defence spending to turn the People's Liberation Army into a “high-tech fighting force,'' said.

Speaking in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Mr Cao said that the PLA is ready, capable and determined to stop any move that might lead to Taiwan’s independence, adding that the “army will continue to make the utmost effort in promoting peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Straits and strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification."

He also noted that the army will continue to modernise and become more effective and technological.

In today’s ceremonies, President Hu said that defence spending will continue to rise as the “only way for us to gradually narrow the gap in military technologies and achieve modernization.”

The PLA budget will increase a record 17.8 per cent to 350 billion yuan (US$ 45 billon) this year, about 1.6 per cent of China's GDP. Unofficially though expenditures are said to be two or three times as high.

However in spite of large increases in China's military budget, the PLA lags several decades behind the US in terms of technical sophistication.

Still the US Defence Department in his latest report to Congress in May indicated that Beijing is making rapid progress like its new fleet of Jin-class nuclear submarines, with a range of more than 8,000 km (5,000 miles), which constitute a potential threat to the United States

Analysts note that the anniversary is being celebrated in great pomp and pageantry, including new uniforms to prove that PLA is stronger than it actually is.

In any event, the PLA continues to be more than just a fighting force—it is also a political force. For instance, when Jiang Zemin stepped down as president of the People’s Republic in 2003, he remained chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, the body that controls the PLA.

Writing in a magazine published by the Chinese Communist Party earlier this month, Defence Minister Cao complained that "hostile forces" want to "westernise" and "de-politicise" the military and thus split it from the party. Today he praised it by reiterating its absolute obedience to Communist Party leaders.

Greater defence spending will also go to raise the low salaries of the 2.3 million-strong force.

Experts point out that an average PLA soldier earns a starting wage of 200 yuan () a month, while a colonel earns between 3,000 to 4,000 yuan a month, roughly a tenth of those in the US.

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