BEIJING: China will raise defense spending “around 7 percent” this year as it guards against “outside meddling” in its disputed regional territorial claims, a top official said Saturday, in an apparent reference to Washington.
Just days after US President Donald Trump outlined plans to raise American military spending by around 10 percent, a spokeswoman for China’s parliament told reporters that future Chinese expenditures will depend on US actions in the region.
“We call for a peaceful settlement through dialogue and consultation (of the territorial disputes). At the same time we need the ability to safeguard our sovereignty and interests and rights,” spokeswoman Fu Ying said at a press conference ahead of the rubber-stamp parliament session.
“In particular, we need to guard against outside meddling in the disputes.”
The annual press briefing comes a day ahead of Sunday’s opening of the National People’s Congress (NPC).
Fu did not specify what “meddling” she was referring to, but Beijing’s increasingly assertive stance towards its claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea have stirred alarm in the region and prompted criticism from Washington.
The planned spending increase is in line with last year, when the government said 2016 outlays would increase by 6.5-7.0 percent.
The 2016 figure marked the first time in six years that spending growth did not rise into double figures.
China is engaged in a decades-long build up and modernization of its once-backward armed forces as it seeks military clout commensurate with its economic might.
But its military capabilities remain modest compared to the United States, Fu said, adding that concerns about the country’s military buildup are unwarranted.
But recent reports that Beijing may be militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea have raised concerns in Washington, which has long argued China’s activities in the region threaten freedom of navigation through the strategically vital waterways, sending ships and aircraft to pass close to the growing islands.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have contested Beijing’s claims.
Recent satellite imagery indicates China is completing structures intended to house surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) on a series of such artificial landmasses, the Washington think-tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said last week.