China will keep up a “reasonable and appropriate” increase in defence spending to satisfy its national security and military reforms, a government spokesman said on Monday, a day before the release of its defence budget.
China’s spending on armed forces is closely watched in Asia and Washington for pointers to its broader strategic intentions amid an impressive modernisation programme, which has developed stealth fighters, aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles.
In 2018, China unveiled its largest defence spending increase in three years, setting an 8.1 percent growth target for the year.
The legislature’s spokesman Zhang Yesui, a former ambassador to Washington, said China had always walked the path of peaceful development. He was speaking ahead of parliament’s release of the national budget on Tuesday.
“Maintaining reasonable and appropriate growth in national defence spending is needed for protecting national security and for military reforms with Chinese characteristics,” Zhang said.
China’s “limited” defence spending is only for its own security needs and to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and will not threaten other countries, he added.
“Whether a country poses a military threat to other countries depends on its foreign and defence policies, rather than how much its defence spending increases.”
$750bn vs $166bn
Zhang did not elaborate on how much defence spending would rise, as has often been the custom in recent years the day before the legislature opens.
US President Donald Trump has backed plans to request $750bn from Congress for American defence spending in 2019. That compares with the $165.55bn China set for its military budget in 2018.
Zhang said China only spent about 1.3 percent of the gross domestic product on its military last year, compared with more than two percent for “certain major developed countries”.
China gives no breakdown of its defence budget, prompting complaints from neighbours and other military powers that Beijing’s lack of transparency has fuelled regional tension. China says it is fully transparent and no threat.
Diplomats and many foreign experts say China’s defence numbers probably underestimate true military spending for the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest armed forces, which also run the space programme.
The 2019 figure should be unveiled at Tuesday’s opening of the annual session of China’s largely rubber-stamp legislature, although in 2017 it was not initially announced, prompting renewed concerns about transparency.