A Chinese soldier pose for photos near a giant display showing a coastal… (Ng Han Guan, Associated…)
Reporting from Beijing — China announced a 12.7% increase in its defense budget Friday, a substantial hike that is sure to stoke global concerns about its rising military capability.
The double-digit increase comes after a tense year in which an increasingly confident China asserted its interests in the Yellow and South China seas, at times unnerving its neighbors and the United States. Announcing the budget increase in the run-up to the National People's Congress, Li Zhaoxing, a spokesman for the legislative gathering, tried to allay concerns.
"The limited military strength of China is solely for safeguarding its national sovereignty and territorial integrity and would not pose a threat to any country," said Li, according to remarks quoted in official reports.
He said the government wants to improve weaponry, military training, human resource development and the living standards of soldiers. China's People's Liberation Army has about 2.3 million soldiers.
Double-digit increases in Chinese military spending have been common for most of the last decade, with last year's more modest 7.5% year-to-year increase considered an aberration.
"So they are back to double-digit increases?" Bonnie S. Glaser, a China specialist with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in an e-mail. "Not surprising, given the many other indications of the growing influence of the Peoples' Liberation Army."
Although foreign analysts have expressed doubt about whether China is disclosing its entire defense budget, Chinese officials say the numbers are relatively modest. The $91.5 billion is about 1.4% of gross domestic product, Li said, The United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars more than China on defense.
Xu Guangyu, a retired military officer and analyst with the China Arms Control and Disarmament Assn., said the amount China spends on its soldiers, in particular, should be increased.
"Our level of spending is still low compared to other countries and what we spend per soldier is very low," Xu said. "We need to spend more improving the livelihood of the military."
China has been rapidly developing its navy and air force. During a visit in January by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, officials showed off increased technological prowess with a test flight of an experimental stealth fighter. China is also trying to build an aircraft carrier.
Over the last year in particular, the Chinese have been more aggressive about territorial claims, as was evident in September when a fishing boat collided with a Japanese vessel near disputed water. There have also been numerous skirmishes between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels in the South China sea, prompting Vietnam to beef up its own military spending.