China’s military budget will rise this year by about seven to eight percent as compared with 2015, Fu Ying, a spokeswoman for China’s National People’s Congress announced on Friday.
Spokeswoman Fu Ying told a press conference that the increase in the budget was to accommodate modernization and reorganization of the military, and to continue the defense of disputed territories claimed by China in the East and South China Seas.
“The military budget of China this year will grow again, but the rate of growth will be slower than last year. This year growth will amount to about seven to eight percent,” Ying said, according to Sputnik News.
While this figure represents a significant increase in the budget for the world’s largest army, it is a much lower figure than had been expected after China’s double-digit annual increases going back almost two decades. Last year, defense spending was budgeted to rise over 10 percent to 886.9 billion yuan, or $135.39 billion.
Though this would be the first single-digit spending increase since 2010, when the military boasted a 7.5 percent increase, other sources are saying the increase could turn out to be much higher, perhaps even up to 20 percent.
“I think even an increase of 20 per cent would be acceptable this time, even though it would be the highest since 2007,” a source close to the People’s Liberation Army said to the South China Morning Post. “A big reduction in troops doesn’t mean the PLA will cut the budget immediately as it should allocate a certain proportion of spending for retirement pay or other lay-off compensation in the coming two years.”
In 2014, China’s military budget grew by 12.2 percent, reaching $132 billion and putting China in second place for military spending behind the United States. Analysts are also predicting the number may rise due to the expense of the recently announced massive layoffs and the slashing of political and non-combat posts as part of an effort to overhaul and modernize, as the South China Morning Post reported.
“President Xi Jinping announced last September a cut of 300,000 military personnel by 2017, mostly among non-combat troops. The PLA will remain the world’s biggest military force after its numbers are cut to about two million.”
The military spending of the People’s Republic of China has ruffled some feathers in the region, particularly American allies like Japan, with whom China is locked in a territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan. Japan itself recorded its largest ever defense budget ($41.4 billion) for the coming year. Chinese moves to modernize and streamline the military may be a sign that they’re looking to stimulate their lagging GDP growth according to Yahoo News, though only time will tell if this method proves effective.
“China’s leaders have routinely sought to justify military modernization by linking defense spending to rapid GDP growth. But growth of 6.9 percent last year was the slowest in 25 years, and a further slowdown is widely expected in 2016.”
The Chinese Navy is also expected to receive robust funding from the new budget due to the importance of maintaining its hold on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea, and to face off against what Beijing sees as U.S. provocations from American warships sailing nearby since last October. According to a U.S. naval source quoted in the Morning Post however, the American involvement has no intentions of slowing down or stopping in response to these actions.
“Admiral Harry Harris, the head of the US Navy’s Pacific Command, said last week that the Pentagon would increase missions in the area to exercise freedom of navigation in international waters. Beijing says the operations are a provocation and challenge its territorial sovereignty.”
Despite the steady increases, China’s military budget is still only about one-quarter that of the United States. The U.S. Department of Defense budget for 2016 is currently $573 billion.
The actual figures will be released on Saturday when the annual session of the China’s parliament and main legislative body, the National People’s Congress, opens and is presented with the budget draft.
[Photo by Elizabeth Dalziel – Pool/Getty Images]