Beijing: China on Tuesday hiked its defence budget by a whopping 10.7 percent to USD 115.7 billion, dwarfing India's current defence spending of USD 37.4 billion, amid the communist giant's military ambitions and territorial disputes with neighbours.
The double-digit rise in defence budget for 2013-14 was announced by Premier Wen Jiabao at the Chinese Parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), which opened its annual session this morning which will also see once-in-a-decade power transfer. Wen also hiked the interior budget to USD 122 billion.

Also for the second consecutive year, China's internal security budget exceeded the defence spending as the Chinese government proposed an 8.7 percent increase for the internal security budget taking the total to 769.1 billion yuan, (USD 122 billion). Justifying the increase in defence budget, Wen said China should accelerate modernization of national defence to strengthen military capabilities.

"We should resolutely uphold China's sovereignty, security, territorial integrity and ensure peaceful development," the 70-year-old leader said. As per the budgetary papers placed at the NPC, a sum of 720.168 billion Yuan was allocated for defence, which at the current exchange rate amounted to USD 115.7 billion, to make Chinese armed forces more mechanized and information-based.

China spent USD 106.4 billion on national defence in 2012, an increase of 11.5 percent than the previous year, making it one of the world's top defence spenders. Outgoing Premier Wen also presented a lengthy work report on the decade old achievements of his government.  The double-digit hike comes at a time when China is rapidly modernizing its armed forces in the backdrop of deepening standoff with Japan over the disputed islands as well as differences with several South East Asian Countries over the South China Sea.

China has already launched its first aircraft carrier last year as well as several versions of new fighter jets including a stealth fighter bracing to deal with big US military push into Asia Pacific. Internally too China faced host of challenges especially in Xinjiang and Tibet where anti-China protests were on increase. Also the Chinese main land has witnessed several protests in recent years over a host of issues, including wage revisions and growing disparities between rich and poor.

Many international analysts say China's defence budget is far higher than it actually announces though Beijing asserts that it is the real amount. Playing down the steady increase in defence budget, NPC spokesperson Fu Ying yesterday said China's defensive military policies played a "core role" in maintaining peace and stability in Asia. "China's peaceful foreign policies and its defensive military policies are conducive to security and peace of Asia," Fu said. "It's not good news to the world that a country as large as China is unable to protect itself," Fu said.

Newly elected leader Xi Jinping and his team would formally take over power from old guard headed by President Hu Jintao in the course of next 10 days.  Moderate growth of defence spending can better achieve PLA's goal to boost combativeness, said Yin Zhuo, director of the Expert Consultation Committee of the PLA Navy.

"The PLA is at a stage of intensifying efforts to accomplish the dual historic tasks of military mechanization and full IT application. It is a critical moment that calls for greater defence expenditure," Yin said. Xi, who took over as the chief of Chinese military succeeding outgoing President Hu Jintao, has ordered the 2.3 million strong PLA to intensify its "real combat" awareness in order to sustain military readiness.

"It is the top priority for the military to be able to combat and win battles," Xi, who is also the chairman of CPC Central Military Commission, had made the remarks during an inspection in December. China strives to basically complete military mechanization and make major progress in full military IT application by 2020, according to a keynote report at 18th Party Congress of CPC in November last year. "It is a military norm that the higher IT application, the greater the spending on procurement, operation and maintenance would be," Yin said.

Chen Zhou, a researcher with the PLA Military Science Academy noted that the growth of China's defence expenditure had historically lagged far behind the country's economic development. "After years of 'compensatory' budget growth, China's military spending is getting more coordinated with the country's economic growth," Chen told state-run Xinhua news agency. "How could the military effectively safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity without more spending?" Chen said.

In recent years, China's military spending amounted to about 1.6 percent of its GDP. The ratio was less than that of the United States, Britain and many other countries, the Xinhua report said. Fu said China's participation in UN peacekeeping missions and anti-piracy patrols showed that its military was promoting global peace and stability. "Overseas military missions are often several times, or even dozens of times, more costly than domestic ones," Fu said.

(Agencies)

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