Moderate military budget rise tipped

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 March, 2010, 12:00am

An increase in China's defence budget is expected but it will be moderate, a People's Liberation Army general says.

'We will have an increase this year, too, but the rate will be lower than in the previous year,' Luo Yuan, a major general and a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said yesterday on the sidelines of the CPPCC opening. 'It's because our army is walking forward on a modern, rational, reasonable, developing road.'

The PLA had a 14.9 per cent budget increase last year. That figure was announced at a National People's Congress press conference, and this year's press conference is today.

Whether the actual figure is announced or not, Luo's statement came as a surprise as many experts had earlier predicted a big rise this year because Beijing is dealing with internal security challenges in Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as the international anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden.

Luo, a researcher with the Beijing-based Academy of Military Science, said the military budget rise would be related to fiscal growth.

'It was about a 14 per cent increase last year as we had more than 20 per cent of fiscal growth,' he said. 'According to our defence demands, we have hundreds of reasons to add to military spending.'

He stressed that Beijing had to cope with 'separatist activities in Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet, a lot of non-traditional security threats such as disaster relief and overseas peacekeeping.

Yin Zhuo, an admiral in the PLA navy, said the navy needed more money for the anti-piracy mission.

'The expenditure of the anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden was not included in last year's defence spending, and it should be an additional budget item this year,' he said.

'In addition, we send soldiers for peacekeeping missions all over the world. All of those need money.'

Yin stressed China's weapon development projects, such as the new generation of fighter jets, would also need more money.

Cheung Tai-ming, a PLA expert at the University of California San Diego's School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, predicted Beijing would have a military budget increase of between 15 to 16 per cent this year.

'But I don't think the anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden could provide enough reason for the PLA to raise more money, as it's just sending three ships,' Cheung said.

Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canadian-based Kanwa Defence Review, said the PLA's military spending would be more than 15 per cent this year. 'It will keep a double-digit growth in the coming decade, with the first five years maintaining more than 15 per cent,' he said, adding the army's budget excluded spending for the armed police and space mission projects.

'However, the project of new generation fighter jets, the first aircraft carrier, missile defensive system and other new projects all need great amounts of money.'

The PLA had a 17.6 per cent military budget increase in 2008, the highest in the past decade, and it raised the issue of an arms race in the region. But Beijing insists that one-third of its military spending was used to raise soldiers' salaries.