Beijing (AsiaNews) – China announced that its military budget would increase by 7.5 per cent in 2010, the lowest jump in the past ten years. It will spend 532.1 billion yuan (US$ 78 billion) over the year. Last year’s growth was 14.9 per cent and ranged between 10 and 14 per cent in previous years.
In today’s press conference, Li Zhaoxing (pictured), spokesman for the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), said that China has always pursued a path of peaceful development. He noted that its “defence expenditure in recent years accounted for about 1.4 per cent of its GDP,” compared to 4 per cent for the United States, and more than 2 per cent for the United Kingdom, France and Russia.
China’s military spending is second only to the United States, which aims to spend US$ 636.3 billion this year, and is more than double India’s budget of US$ 32.1 billion.
Wen Bing, a researcher with the Military Science Academy of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, said the slowdown in defence budget increase is due to the lingering global financial crisis and the world's improving security environment. However, many experts note that other governments in the region have either cut or held expenditure steady, raising concerns that a power imbalance was building.
As to allay such fears, Li said that the country's limited military force was only designed to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In reality, many observers believe that China underestimates its military expenditures. For example, China budgeted 480.7 billion yuan for defence last year but actually spent 495 billion. In addition, it does not include certain items in its defence budget. The Pentagon estimates that Beijing actually spends at least twice as much as it claims.
Whatever the case may be, “China will adhere to a path of peaceful development and defensive military policies,” Li insisted.
In an obvious reference to Barack Obama, he criticised some countries during the press conference for interfering in China's internal affairs. He also said that Chinese people were angry with the meeting between certain foreign leaders and the Dalai Lama, and that using the Taiwan issue to interfere in China's internal affairs was “unacceptable”.
By contrast, the situation in China's remote Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was “stable”, he said, and that “solidarity, mutual assistance and harmony are being consolidated and developed".
In July of last year, a peaceful demonstration by indigenous Uyghurs turned into unrest against Han Chinese, who reacted by going on a violent rampage. During the civil strife that ensued, 197 were killed, thousands were arrested and tens of people were sentenced to death.