China plans 7.5% increase in defence spending for 2010

China announced Thursday a planned 7.5 percent boost in defense spending this year, a smaller increase than expected and the first time in more than two decades the jump has been less than double-digits.

The increase will be used to enhance China’s ability “to meet various threats,” National People’s Congress spokesman Li Zhaoxing told a nationally televised news conference.

“China is committed to peaceful development and a military posture that is defensive in nature,” Li said.

He said China’s defense budget of 532.11 billion yuan ($77.9 billion) was relatively low. In recent years, the share of China defense spending was about 1.4 percent of gross domestic product. He said the figure in the United States exceeded 4 percent, while Britain, France and Russia all exceeded 2 percent.

The increase over actual defense spending in 2009 was 37.12 billion yuan, Li said. Defense spending accounts for 6.3 percent of China’s total budget, a decline from previous years, he said.

Although smaller than expected, the increase comes amid heightened concerns about China’s military plans and questions about the aims of the armed forces’ buildup. Many analysts say the official figure accounts for only a part of actual military spending, with estimates on the total figure ranging up to twice or more than Beijing claims.

Figures from the Information Office of the Cabinet show that China’s last single-digit percentage in defense spending was in the 1980s.

Beijing counters its spending remains in line with economic growth and much smaller than the U.S.’, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP. Officials say about one-third of spending goes to salaries and improving living conditions for soldiers, with the rest split between replacing equipment and military research and development.

The defense spending figure, which is always released on the eve of the opening of the National People’s Congress, follows repeated protests recently by Beijing over the U.S. sale of weaponry to Taiwan. These sales are driven by threats from China to use force to bring the island under its control, backed up by an estimated 1,300 Chinese ballistic missiles positioned along the Taiwan Strait.

Communist-ruled China split with Taiwan amid civil war in 1949 and continues to regard the self-governing democracy as part of its territory. Beijing has warned of a disruption in ties with Washington if the sale goes ahead, but has not said what specific actions it would take.

Li said the use of Taiwan as a wedge against China by some countries was an “unacceptable” interference in China’s internal affairs.

Source: AP

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