China says its defense budget will rise about 7 percent in 2017, its slowest pace since 2010. The announcement comes shortly after the US proposed a 10-percent hike in its military spending.
China announced on Saturday it was continuing a trend that has seen its military expenditure grow less and less rapidly over the past few years, despite pressure from some quarters for a boost in spending in the face of proposals by Washington to raise the US defense budget for 2017 by 10 percent.
Chinese government spokeswoman Fu Ying told a news conference in Beijing that China would raise its 2017 defense budget by about 7 percent, which could mark the third consecutive year in which spending growth rates have declined, depending on the final figure.
This means defense spending would account for some 1.3 percent of GDP, the same level as the past few years, Fu said. The exact figure is to be provided by Premier Li Keqiang in an address to the National People's Congress when it opens for its annual session on Sunday.
China's military budget, the world's second-largest though still far behind that of the United States, grew by 7.6 percent last year and 10.1 percent in 2015.
'Preservation of peace and security'
Fu reiterated China's claim that its military was purely for defense and represented a major contribution to maintaining stability in Asia.
"We advocate dialogue for peaceful resolutions, while at the same time, we need to possess the ability to defend our sovereignty and interests," she said. "The strengthening of Chinese capabilities benefits the preservation of peace and security in this region, and not the opposite."
This and other statements she made appeared aimed at reassuring regional neighbors who have been unsettled by an increasingly assertive stance taken by Beijing in territorial disputes in the East and South China seas. Recent reports that China may be adapting artificial islands in the South China Sea for military purposes have caused concern in Washington as well.
US far in front
But Fu dismissed such concerns.
"Look at the past decade or so; there have been so many conflicts, even wars, around the world, resulting in serious, large numbers of causalities and loss of property, so many refugees destitute and homeless. Which one has China caused?" she asked, adding that future trends in Asia would "depend on US intentions vis-a-vis the region and US activities [which] to a certain extent set the barometer for the situation here," Fu said.
The increase announced on Saturday would push China's total defense budget past 1 trillion yuan ($145 billion, 136.5 billion euros) for the first time.
However, that is still only a quarter or so of the US defense budget, which would amount to $603 billion if the 10 percent increase proposed by the White House is approved.
tj/jlw (Reuters, AFP, AP)