China's military will respond if 'provoked' by neighbours, says official
China committed to peaceful development, but armed forces will protect country's territorial sovereignty, legislature's spokeswoman says
The army's modernisation will continue and Beijing will respond to any provocation from neighbouring countries, a government official said yesterday.
The country was committed to its peaceful development, but "peace can only be maintained by strength", said Fu Ying a spokeswoman for the National People's Congress session that opens in Beijing today.
Her remarks came amid heightening tensions with neighbours over territorial disputes in the East and South China seas and ahead of today's announcement of the national defence budget for the year ahead.
China's officially declared military spending has been growing at an average rate of 10 per cent annually since 2011, reaching 720 billion yuan (HK$911 billion) last year - second only to the United States.
Fu defended the rise in military spending, saying it was for defensive purposes and that China wanted to peacefully coexist with its neighbours.
"Our people couldn't live and work in peace and contentment if we don't have a strong and powerful defence capability," she said. "Chinese people might also ask, 'if our country becomes powerful and prosperous, but our defence capability is very weak, [does it] also indicate that we are peaceful?'"
She said China supported resolving territorial disputes through negotiation, but the military would step in if there were provocations.
"If some countries want to challenge and ruin such a consensus and harm regional security and order China will make a response and an effective response at that," she said. "The aim of [any] response is to maintain China's territory and sovereignty and to maintain regional order and peace."
Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military affairs commentator, said Fu's remarks indicated a toughening of tactics against neighbouring states. Her remarks were similar to pledges made by President Xi Jinping to intensify the People's Liberation Army "real combat" awareness to improve its military readiness, Ni said.
"The remarks that peace is maintained by strength is rhetoric indicating China intends to flex its muscles more," he said.
"China now believes it has the status of a normal country rather than a weak one, along with its economic development, and it is taking territorial disputes more seriously than it used to."
The Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said Beijing was likely to make less compromises over territorial disputes in the future.
"It seems that the involvement of the military will only be intensified and the Chinese military has been stepping up preparations for that," he said.
China was the only nation apart from Russia to increase defence spending last year, according to the defence think tank the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Fu said the modernisation of the army was not driven by US foreign policy in Asia. She said Beijing was still assessing whether Washington was attempting to contain China's influence in the region.
A US government report, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said in November that China's military build-up in Asia was shifting the security balance in the region, challenging decades of US military dominance.