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Posted on: Beijing Bulletin, Sunday, March 5th, 2017

 

 

 

Days after U.S. President Donald Trump proposed to increase America’s military spending, now China, threatened by “outside meddling” has decided to do the same.

 

A top Chinese official said on Saturday that the country would raise defence spending «around seven percent» this year as it guards against «outside meddling» in its disputed regional territorial claims.

Addressing a press conference, spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress, Fu Ying said that future Chinese expenditures will depend on U.S. actions in the region.

 

Ahead of the rubber-stamp parliament session, Ying further said, “We call for a peaceful settlement through dialogue and consultation (of the territorial disputes). At the same time we need the ability to safeguard our sovereignty and interests and rights. In particular, we need to guard against outside meddling in the disputes.»

 

While Ying did not elaborate on the kind of «meddling» she was referring to, Beijing has continued to assert its claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea – create more disputes in the region and drawing more criticism from regional rivals and from Washington.

 

She added, that in the current year, the country has decided to spend 1.3 percent of its GDP on the

military.

According to estimates released by The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China in 2015 spent 1.9 percent of its GDP on the military, compared to 3.3 percent for the United States.

 

Earlier this week, in his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump said that as part of his massive overhaul of federal spending, he is planning to boost military spending by $54 billion for new aircraft, ships and fighters.

 

Making his first federal budget, he said domestic programs and foreign aid would as a whole absorb a 10 percent, $54 billion cut from the current levels, in order to match the military increase.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the marked increase in Pentagon spending would bring the total defense budget to a record $603 billion – excluding the tens of billions of dollars for overseas military operations.

 

Last year, the Chinese government had stated in its 2016 outlays that it would increase spending by 6.5-7.0 percent. The move to raise spending therefore, is in line with its plans.

Further, reports pointed out that the 2016 figure marked the first time in six years that spending growth did not rise into double figures.

 

The Chinese armed forces, once considered backward, have been increasingly headed in the direction of modernization and seek military clout commensurate with its economic might.

Ying said that China’s military capabilities “remain modest compared to the United States,” adding that concerns about the country’s military buildup are unwarranted.

 

She said, “China has never caused harm to anyone, to any country.”

 

However, China’s aggressive militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea have increased concerns not just in nations that claim the disputed waters, including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan – but also in Washington.

 

The U.S. has, for long, accused China of threatening freedom of navigation through the strategically vital waterways, sending ships and aircraft to pass close to the growing islands.

 

In a report released last week, Washington think-tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said that recent satellite imagery has revealed that China is completing structures intended to house surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) on a series of such artificial landmasses.

 

In her statement, Ying clarified that future trends in the region «will depend on U.S. intentions vis-a-vis the region and U.S. activities (which) to a certain extent set the barometer for the situation here.”

 

Adding, “Probably fundamentally the United States is concerned that China may catch up with the United States in terms of capability, but we are a developing country. There is a huge gap between China and the U.S. in capability.»

 

Meanwhile, experts like Barthelemy Courmont, a senior Research Fellow at the Paris-based French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) provided a different perspective of China’s increased defence spending.

 

“This development also reflects Beijing’s ambition to impose its supremacy over Asia by giving itself the means of being a credible power.”

 

He warned that the territorial tensions were leading to a «senseless arms race» in the region.

Courmont said, “It’s often in reaction to China’s spending increases that neighbouring countries also decide to strengthen their military capacities.”

 

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