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    Mar 05, 2015

    China's defence spending up 10% as economy slows


    CHINA'S defence budget this year will rise about 10 per cent compared with last year, a top government official said yesterday, outpacing the slowing economy as the country ramps up investment in high-tech equipment such as submarines and stealth jets.

    Parliament spokesman Fu Ying told reporters that the actual figure will be released today, when the annual session of the National People's Congress opens.

    Last year, defence spending was budgeted to rise 12.2 per cent to US$130 billion (S$180 billion), second only to the United States.

    The official Xinhua news agency said this year's target - which would put defence outlays at around US$145 billion - would represent the slowest growth in military spending in five years.

    China has logged a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit budget increases, though many experts think the country's real defence outlays are larger than stated.

    The military build-up has jangled nerves around the region, particularly as China has taken an increasingly robust line on its territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.

    In the US, the Obama administration has proposed an increased US$534 billion Pentagon base budget plus US$51 billion in war funds, as it urged Congress to end cuts it said erodes US military power.

    China faced greater challenges in modernising its military than "great powers", Ms Fu said.

    "We have to rely on ourselves for most of our military equipment, and research and development," she added. "Fundamentally speaking, China's defence policy is defensive in nature. This is clearly defined in the Constitution. We will not easily change this direction and principle."

    Serving and retired military officers have said pervasive graft has undermined the armed forces' prowess and morale among the rank and file, a problem robust spending may help alleviate.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping has pursued corrupt officials in all walks of life, and among the most powerful people ensnared by the campaign have been former top military officers.

    While Beijing keeps the details of its military spending secret, experts have said additional funding would likely go towards beefing up the navy with anti-submarine ships and developing aircraft carriers beyond the sole vessel in operation.

    "Carriers have definitely got to be on the list," said John Blaxland, senior fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra.

    "But also we've seen a massive surge in the number of submarines, and of course everybody loves submarines. The intimidatory effect of a submarine is hard to beat."

    Money would also likely go into cyber capabilities and satellites, he added.

    China's leaders have routinely sought to justify the country's military modernisation by linking defence spending to rapid gross domestic product growth. But growth of 7.4 per cent last year was the slowest in 24 years, and a further slowdown to around 7 per cent is expected this year.

    US military and diplomatic "rebalancing" towards Asia and Mr Xi's crackdown on corruption in the People's Liberation Army, which has caused some disquiet in the ranks, are among the other factors keeping military spending high, experts have said.