Military orchestration: China’s economic growth may have slowed, but its spending on the military is to rise again

The country's aggressive foreign policy coupled with yet another increase in defence spending makes clear where its national priorities lie

Beijing

China’s military spending will rise by 12.2 per cent this year, officials have announced at an annual meeting of government leaders.

The budgeted $132bn (£79bn) in spending comes after a year in which President Xi Jinping has consolidated considerable power domestically and adopted an aggressive posture in foreign policy, particularly in territorial conflicts with Japan and Southeast Asian countries.

On Tuesday, before the budget’s release, a government spokeswoman, Fu Ying, rejected equating increased military spending with a more aggressive Chinese military. “China’s national defence power is defensive in nature,” she said.

Last year, China expanded its military by 10.7 per cent, making clear its national priorities even in the face of slower economic growth.

The increase follows a nearly unbroken run for the past two decades of double-digit hikes in the Chinese defence budget, which is second only to that of the United States in size.

“This is worrying news for China’s neighbours, particularly for Japan,” said Rory Medcalf, a regional security analyst at the independent Lowy Institute in Sydney.

Those who thought Mr Xi might prefer to concentrate on domestic development over military expansion in a slowing economy had “underestimated the Chinese determination to shape its strategic environment”, he added.

The 2014 defence budget is the first for Mr Xi, the “princeling” son of a late Communist Party elder, and the increase appears to reflect his desire to build what he calls a strong, rejuvenated China.

Mr Xi also recently urged China’s military leadership to work faster to get the country’s sole aircraft carrier combat-ready.

Within hours of the announcement, officials in Japan and Taiwan expressed disquiet over the absence of any details on how Beijing will spend the money, concerns long echoed in Washington.

China and Japan, a key US ally in the region, are increasingly locking horns over uninhabited rocky islands each claims in the East China Sea.

China’s military is not made up of “boy scouts with spears”, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a briefing in response to Japan’s criticism. “Some foreigners always expect China to be a baby scout,” Mr Qin said. “In that way, how can we safeguard national security and world peace?”

Premier Li Keqiang said the government would ‘enhance border, coastal and air defences’ (Getty) Premier Li Keqiang said the government would ‘enhance border, coastal and air defences’ (Getty)
Beijing also claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan claim parts of those waters.

Speaking at the opening of China’s annual session of parliament, Premier Li Keqiang said the government would “strengthen research on national defence and the development of new- and high-technology weapons and equipment” and “enhance border, coastal and air defences”.

“We will comprehensively enhance the revolutionary nature of the Chinese armed forces, further modernise them and upgrade their performance, and continue to raise their deterrence and combat capabilities in the information age,” Mr Li told the largely rubber-stamp National People’s Congress.

Chinese leaders also unveiled their projection for China’s economy to grow by 7.5 per cent in 2014, unchanged from the previous two years’ targets. The relatively modest projection after decades of runaway growth suggests that Chinese leaders are continuing to focus on growth in gross domestic product but also beginning to prioritise economic sustainability, environmental concerns and social stability.

It is the first full meeting of China’s lawmakers since Mr Xi outlined a wide-reaching plan for economic and social reforms last year. Experts are closely watching this year’s congress, which lasts until 13 March, for clues about how and how far the party plans to carry out those promised reforms – to liberalise financial markets, rein in its powerful state-owned enterprises and tackle pollution, corruption and local government debt – especially in the face of considerable resistance and obstacles.

In November, China’s new leaders announced their most sweeping package of economic, social and legal reforms in decades, including a relaxation of the country’s “one-child” policy and the scrapping of the much-criticised system of labour camps.

The promised reforms suggested a new vision of China’s future as a country still firmly under the grip of the Communist Party but increasingly driven by market forces and willing to sacrifice continued, breakneck, economic growth for more sustainable growth and environmental concern.

While Mr Xi has asserted himself in varied ways as the unquestioned leader, the reports and speeches were delivered by Premier Li Keqiang, following tradition.

All such reports, however, are “based on the consensus and compromise between the  rime Minister and the Chairman,” said Mao Yushi, a well-known liberal economist in China. “So it is no surprise that you will see a lot of influence of Xi in Li Keqiang’s report.”

In recent months, China’s top government think-tanks have debated whether the country’s economic growth target for 2014 should stay at 7.5 per cent or drop to 7 per cent. Many who are urging a lower growth target argued that it is necessary in order to focus on executing much-needed reforms.

China’s economic growth in the past year, while strong compared with that of many developed countries, is close to its slowest pace since the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s.

After a year-long anti-corruption campaign begun by Mr Xi, government organisers made this year’s gathering more austere. Delegates will eat cheaper buffet meals without any liquor, according to a government spokeswoman, in a nod to leaders’ recent emphasis on frugality and anti-corruption.

©The Washington Post/Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own