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China hikes defence budget, seeks friendly ties with India

By The Assam Tribune

Beijing, March 4 (IANS): China hiked its defence budget by nearly 13 percent on Friday and said it was keen to maintain friendly relations with neighbouring countries such as India.

China and India have reached a consensus on maintaining peace and tranquility of their border areas before border issues are eventually settled, said Li Zhaoxing, spokesperson for the annual session of China's national legislature.

Xinhua quoted Li as saying that China plans to raise its defence budget by 12.7 percent to 601 billion yuan ($91.5 billion) in 2011, compared with an increase of 7.5 percent last year.

China is ready to work with India to implement relevant agreements to maintain a stable situation in border areas, which is conducive to the interests of the two countries, he said. "It is true that China's defence budget is raised a bit, but the ratio of the defence spending in the country's GDP remains very low, much lower than those of many other countries," Li told a press conference for the annual parliamentary session.

However, the ratio in India is far higher than two percent, he said when responding to a question on whether China's defence budget increase would put pressure on its neighbouring countries such as India.

The year's draft defence budget was 67.6 billion yuan more than 2010, and accounted for about six percent of the country's total budget, said Li Zhaoxing.

"The government has always tried to limit military spending and it has set the defence spending at a reasonable level to ensure the balance between national defence and economic development," Li said.

The former foreign minister said China's defence expenditure is transparent and defensive in nature.

The bulk of the spending would go towards moderately improving armament, military training, human resource development, infrastructure of grassroots units and the living standards of the servicemen, said Li. "China is committed to peaceful development and a national defence policy that is defensive in nature," said Li.

Compared to the world's average, he said, China's military spending is low given its 1.3 billion population, vast land and long coastal lines. "The limited military strength of China is solely for safeguarding its national sovereignty and territorial integrity and would not pose a threat to any country," said Li.

DPA adds: The rise was slightly higher than expected, after last year's 7.5 percent budget hike was the smallest percentage increase for some 20 years.

China says it needs the increases to modernize its 2.5-million-strong People's Liberation Army. But foreign politicians and analysts have raised concerns over the speed and transparency of its military expansion. "There is no such thing as the so-called hidden military expenditure in China, and the budget is subject to auditing from the government and military," he said.

The increase would mainly fund pay rises for soldiers, training, infrastructure and "moderately improving armaments," Li said.

The 3,000-member National People's Congress is scheduled to discuss and approve the national budget and a five-year national development plan during its 10-day annual session, which begins on Saturday. China was second in the list of the world's biggest military spenders in 2009, behind only the United States, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported last year.

China's estimated military spending tripled in real terms over 10 years of rapid economic growth to reach 99 billion dollars in 2009, about one seventh of the estimated US spending, the institute said.

Some Western critics claim China's real military spending is up to three times the budget figure.

In a reflection of China's growing military might, a prototype of China's first known stealth fighter plane made a test flight in January.

The US Defence Department in January quoted Marine Corps Colonel Dave Lapan as saying: "China is developing and fielding large numbers of advanced medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles, new attack submarines equipped with advanced weapons, increasingly capable long-range air defence systems, electronic warfare and computer network attack capabilities, advanced fighter aircraft and counter-space systems."

China has also developed an aircraft-carrier flight training centre in the central city of Wuhan and is expected to launch its first carrier in the next few years.

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