05/26/2006, 00.00
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China's military spending rising rapidly

The Pentagon and other entities claim military spending is growing fast and is 1.7 times higher than officially stated. Beijing has launched a programme to increase research in the military and commercial sectors.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – China is set to modernize its army in the coming 15 years by building large aircraft, advanced weaponry, nuclear power stations and space probes. Yesterday's announcement by the state news agency Xinhua came together with Chinese protestations against a report by the US Defence Department that expressed "concern" about Beijing's military growth. Meanwhile, a British research institute said China's military budget was nearly twice that officially stated.  

Beijing plans to expand research activities with the recruitment of "a team of world-class experts" to develop technology that can be used in both the military and commercial arenas, according to the programme approved yesterday by the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence at a meeting in Qingdao , Shandong. The plan outlines efforts to develop computer technology, aircraft, pressurised-water reactors and high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear power stations, as well as manned space missions and lunar probe programmes.

Premier Wen Jiabao said: "The decision [to build] large aircraft as part of the national strategy means the making of a competitive industry." Wen drew attention to the advantages of such a twofold strategy and said China needed 1,500 large aircraft, worth more than US0 billion, in the coming decades. The aim, he added, was to make the country one of the leaders in the sector, even if this could take around 30 to 40 years.

Meanwhile, Beijing yesterday protested against the annual report of the Pentagon, which said it was "alarmed" by China's increasing military spending. Washington denounced the military escalation targeting Taiwan (with more than 730 short-range ballistic missiles in the three provinces facing the island) and pointed to the growing "military threat" China posed to the entire region. The European Union was asked to maintain an embargo on weapons sales, in force since the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

"Based on a 'cold war mentality' and unclear ulterior motives, the report deliberately overstates China's military strength and expenditure, and continues to spread the 'China threat theory'," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao .

China's official army budget for 2006 was of 283.8 billion yuan, a 14% increase compared to 2005, but western experts say the figure is actually much higher. The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said China's military spending was 1.7 times higher than officially stated.

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