China says defense spending rise to be 'reasonable and appropriate'

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will keep up a “reasonable and appropriate” increase in defense spending to satisfy its national security and military reforms, a government spokesman said on Monday, ahead of the release of its defense budget.

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China’s spending on armed forces is closely watched in Asia and Washington for pointers to its broader strategic intentions amid an impressive modernization program that has developed stealth fighters, aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles.

In 2018, China unveiled its largest defense spending increase in three years, setting an 8.1 percent growth target for the year.

He was speaking ahead of parliament’s release of the national budget on Tuesday, the legislature’s spokesman Zhang Yesui, a former ambassador to Washington, said China had always walked the path of peaceful development.

“Maintaining reasonable and appropriate growth in national defense spending is needed for protecting national security and for military reforms with Chinese characteristics,” Zhang said.

China’s “limited” defense spending is only for its own security needs and to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and will not threaten other countries, he added.

“Whether a country poses a military threat to other countries depends on its foreign and defense policies, rather than how much its defense spending increases.”

Zhang did not elaborate on how much defense spending would rise, as has often been the custom in recent years the day before the legislature opens.

U.S. President Donald Trump has backed plans to request $750 billion from Congress for defense spending in 2019. That compares with the 1.11 trillion yuan ($165.55 billion) China set for its military budget in 2018.

Zhang said China only spent about 1.3 percent of GDP on its military last year, compared with more than 2 percent for “certain major developed countries”.

China gives no breakdown of its defense budget, prompting complaints from neighbors and other military powers that Beijing’s lack of transparency has fueled regional tension. China says it is fully transparent and no threat.

Diplomats and many foreign experts say China’s defense numbers probably underestimate true military spending for the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest armed forces, which also run the space program.

The 2019 figure should be unveiled at Tuesday’s opening of the annual session of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, although, in 2017, it was not initially announced, prompting renewed concerns about transparency.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez