China Eases Foot Off Gas on Military Spending

The announcement comes days after US President Donald Trump announced he planned a $54bn hike in American defence spending.

Gen. Wang Hongguang, a retired deputy commander of the former Nanjing Military Command, called for a 12 percent increase of the Chinese defense budget in view of U.S. defense spending plans.

The precise figure will be provided by Premier Li Keqiang in his address to the National People's Congress on Sunday morning.

China's economy expanded by 6.7 percent last year, a good start for the country's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), Wang Guoqing, spokesperson for the fifth session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told a press conference.

China maintains that the United States has no place in the dispute and regularly accuses the USA government of "meddling" in Asian affairs.

Fu said China's growing military capabilities "will help maintain peace and stability in the region, rather than the opposite". Recent reports that China may be adapting artificial islands in the South China Sea for military purposes have caused concern in Washington as well. "China has never brought any harm to any countries".

However, analysts say China's moderate growth of its military budget is more a reflection of its slowing economy than an attempt to appear non-aggressive on the worldwide scene.

Addressing global concerns over China's growing military strength, Fu said: "Look at the past decade or so; there have been so many conflicts, even wars, around the world resulting in serious, large numbers of casualties and loss of property, so many refugees destitute and homeless".

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The relatively modest spending increase reflects both China's steady, if not spectacular economic growth, and a security outlook that has changed little in recent years, said Tang Yonghong of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at Xiamen University in southeastern China.

"I am optimistic about the trade future between China and the United States, though disputes and conflicts could hardly be avoided, so Beijing can take this chance to appease those who have such concerns".

China is also dealing with increased tensions in the Korean Peninsula, where the US and South Korea are preparing to deploy a missile-defence system that China has long criticized. She noted North Atlantic Treaty Organization members were being urged to spend 2% of GDP on defense-a higher level than China.

According to Fu, China and some ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries have already returned to dialogue and consultation, and tensions in the South China Sea have shown trends of easing.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Sean Spicer vowed in January that the US would stand up to China in the South China Sea. "Which one has China caused?" she asked, adding that future trends in Asia would "depend on USA intentions vis-a-vis the region and United States activities [which] to a certain extent set the barometer for the situation here", Fu said.

Trump then publicly questioned U.S. support for the one-China policy, alongside constant criticism of China's currency tactics, threats to slap punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, and bluster over China's military build-up in the South China Sea - all of which are believed to have reinforced the concerns of the nation's top leaders who prize stability and predictability as top priorities.

"You should ask them what their intentions are", Fu added.

  • Delia Davidson