China has announced that it will boost military spending by 11.2 per cent this year, in a move likely to cause concern about Beijing's rapid military build-up and stoke regional tensions.
The increase was announced on Sunday by Li Zhaoxing, the spokesman for China's parliament, and will bring official spending on the People's Liberation Army to 670.3bn yuan ($110bn) for 2012, after a 12.7 per cent increase last year and a nearly consistent series of double-digit rises across two decades.
"China's limited military power is for the sake of preserving national sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity"
- Li Zhaoxing,
China's public budget is widely thought by foreign experts to undercount its real spending on military modernisation, which has unnerved Asian neighbours and drawn repeated calls from the US for China to share more about its intentions.
Li said the world has nothing to fear, and the money spent on the PLA paled in comparison with the Pentagon's outlays.
"You can see that we have 1.3 billion people with a large land areas and a long coastline, but our outlays on defence are quite low compared to other major countries," Li said before the annual session of the National People's Congress, the Communist Party-controlled legislature that will approve the budget.
"China's limited military power is for the sake of preserving national sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity," said Li, a former foreign minister. "Fundamentally, it constitutes no threat to other countries."
Budget 'tops $100bn'
Asian neighbours have been nervous about Beijing's expanding military, and this latest double-digit rise could reinforce worries in Japan, India and Southeast Asian nations.
"China's military capabilities plus its creeping assertiveness, its new kind of aggressiveness in the region, I think those are causes for concern," Richard Bitzinger, a military expert and senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said.
"I think what's most significant, for me at least, is the fact that they finally topped $100bn in defence spending."
Bitzinger said the "ultimate cumulative effect is that it has basically propelled the Chinese into the second largest defence spender in the world, behind the United States".
Obama has sought to reassure Asian allies that the US will stay a key player in the area, and the Pentagon has said it will "rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region".
"China shares its land border with 14 countries; it used to make sense that a country in such a position maintains strong conventional forces," said Kazuya Sakamoto, a professor at Osaka University in Japan who researches international security.
"But in this nuclear age, it does not really make sense China, a nuclear-armed country, continues to build up its military at such a pace."
Obama's proposed budget for the fiscal year of 2013 calls for a Pentagon base budget of $525.4bn, about $5.1bn less than approved for 2012.
China's defence spending was 1.28 per cent of its gross domestic product in 2011, while the US and Britain both devoted more then two per cent of their economies to their military forces, Li, the Chinese parliament spokesman, said.
Japan and China have disputed over islands each claims in the East China Sea; Vietnam, the Philippines and other nations have challenged Beijing over claims to swathes of the South China Sea that could be rich in oil and gas.
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