By Austin Ramzy, Global Spin
China announced it will increase its military spending by 11.2% this year, further establishing its position as a growing regional power. The figure, which was announced ahead of the start of this year’s National People’s Congress, is closely followed by China’s neighbors as an indicator of China’s growing capability to project force beyond its borders. Last Monday Premier Wen Jiabao, in his annual work report which begins the NPC session, said the most important capability for China’s People’s Liberation Army “is to win local wars under information-age conditions.”
This year’s defense budget will be held up against President Obama’s “pivot” to Asia for any signs that China is further strengthening it capabilities in response to U.S. plans to increase its military presence in the Pacific. Chinese officials have emphasized that the increase in spending is in line with their country’s growing economy and doesn’t represent a threat to the region. “The Chinese government has maintained reasonable and appropriate growth in defense spending on the strength of rapid economic and social development and the steady increase of fiscal revenues,” Li Zhaoxing, the spokesman for the NPC, told a press conference Sunday. China will spend $106.4 billion on defense this year, Li said. Its military budget is still a fraction of what the U.S. spends. In December the U.S. Congress approved a $662 billion defense budget for this this year. Precise comparisons are difficult because the actual spending on military activities for both countries is greater than the publicly disclosed budgets and analysts can only estimate the total costs.
China’s annual growth in military spending has averaged over 10% for more than a decade, though yearly increases have varied. From 2006 to 2008 the average annual increase was 18%, but that dropped to 7.5% in 2010 amid the global economic slowdown. China has embarked on several big-ticket military weapons programs including development of a stealth fighter jet and an aircraft carrier program.