China to raise defence spending by 7.5%, lower than 2018


Beijing (AFP)

China announced Tuesday a 7.5 percent increase in military spending in 2019, lower than last year as the country faces an economic slowdown.

Beijing has strived to provide its two million-strong People's Liberation Army (PLA) with state-of-the-art hardware, spending heavily on stealth warplanes, aircraft carriers and other weaponry.

The government will spend 1.19 trillion yuan ($177.6 billion) on defence in 2019, after it increased its outlay by 8.1 percent to 1.11 trillion yuan in 2018, according to a government report presented at the start of the annual meeting of the National People's Congress.

China is the world's second-biggest military spender but remains far behind the United States, which budgeted $716 billion for defence in 2019. Beijing has not posted double-digit increases in spending since 2015.

The lower spending increase comes as the country's economy is slowing down, with the report presented at the NPC setting a growth target of 6.0-6.5 percent.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has vowed to turn the PLA into a "world class" military by mid-century, has repeatedly called on the army to be combat-ready.

The spending plan comes as Beijing steps up its rhetoric against any independence movements in self-ruled Taiwan and continues to assert its vast territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea.

- No threat? -

But NPC spokesman Zhang Yesui said China's military spending "doesn't pose a threat to other countries."

"China's limited spending in defence only aims to maintain the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the country," Zhang said at a news conference on Monday.

The Communist Party has focused on catching up to the technology used by armed forces in the United States and western Europe, while cutting troops numbers to around two million soldiers -- still the world's biggest army.

China has built a second aircraft carrier -- its first domestically manufactured one -- and has put it through sea trials in recent months as it prepares to put it into operation.

Beijing is also building new generation destroyer vessels, fighter jets and ballistic missiles, while research is ongoing for the development of electromagnetic railguns and anti-satellite lasers.

Authorities, experts and state media say the PLA needs to improve the pay and living conditions of its troops.

Efforts to professionalise the army and make it ready for warfare require more military exercises, which mean more spending on munitions and fuel.

While China's military spending lags far behind the United States, it far surpasses that of other nations.

In 2018, China spent more than twice as much as the third biggest spender, Saudi Arabia ($82.9 billion), and even more than Russia ($63.1 billion) and India ($57.9 billion), according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).