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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower