China on Sunday announced a double-digit hike in defense expenditures for 2012 in a move that could fuel regional anxieties about Beijing's rapid military build-up.
A statement issued by China's National People's Congress spokesman, Li Zhaoxing, said Beijing plans to boost spending by 11.2 percent this year, the latest hefty increase in nearly 20 years of major increases to defense spending.
Li said China's defense spending would increase to 670.2 billion yuan (80.6 billion euros; $106.4 billion) in 2012, or about 67 billion more than 2011.
China's official defense spending is the highest in the world after the United States, but actual outlays, according to foreign defense experts, may even be 50 percent larger because China excludes expenditures for its nuclear missile force and other programs.
Last year's spending amounted to 1.28 percent of China's gross domestic product, compared to World Bank figures for the United States of 4.8 percent in 2010.
China's leaders have repeatedly said that they are unhappy with recent moves by the Obama administration to increase the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, but only twice since the early 1990s has China's increase in military spending been less than double digits.
The rapid military build-up has set off alarm bells across Asia and in Washington, which announced a new Asian defense strategy in January as a counterweight to China's rising power.
Arthur Ding, a Taiwanese expert on China's military, said the considerable growth in China's military expenditures would "push regional countries to build closer ties with the United States."
"China has to explain and try to convince the regional countries why they need such a high growth rate," Ding said.
Countries, like Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, all have maritime disputes with Beijing over resource-rich islands in the South China Sea.
China's aggressive re-make of its military forces has prompted the US to move new troops into Australia, shore up its alliances with traditional allies Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, and forge new ties with Vietnam.
gb/ncy (AP, dpa, AFP, dapd)