China defended its growing defence budget and said that the military spending is purely to safeguard the country’s sovereignty, security and interests, The Global Times reported.
Tan Kefei, a spokesperson of the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police delegation to the first session of the 14th National People’s Congress made these remarks on Monday at two ongoing sessions, after the country announced its plan to raise the defence budget by 7.2 per cent in 2023.
“The Chinese government adheres to the policy of coordinated development of national defence development and economic development, and it reasonably sets the scale of defence expenditure based on the needs of national defence and the development level of the national economy,” Tan said.
Foreign media should look at their own countries’ military expansions before hyping the “China threat” theory, analysts said.
The eight-day annual session of China’s National People’s Congress opened on March 4 in the presence of around 3000 delegates and President Xi Jinping and other leaders. The session assumed importance in the backdrop of new geo-political threats facing China and its lowest growth in decades at 3 per cent in the year 2022.
Outgoing Premier of China Li Keqiang, while addressing the opening of the annual session and presenting the government’s annual work report (AWR), revealed that the growth target for China for the year 2023 would be “around 5 per cent”. The AWR also highlighted that over 12 million jobs were added in 2022 while the urban unemployment rate fell to 5.5 per cent. He suggested that the Chinese government “should give priority to the recovery and expansion of consumption”. Li will finish his decade as the country’s premier, who was in charge of the economy, at the end of the eight-day National People’s Congress (NPC).
The AWR dwelt on several issues including security preparedness, Taiwan’s independence, and the military budget for the year 2023, among others. Outgoing Premier Li Keqiang told delegates to the NPC that “external attempts to suppress and contain China is escalating”.
In view of this, he suggested, “The armed forces should intensify military training and preparedness across the board, develop new military strategic guidance, devote greater energy to training under combat conditions and make well-coordinated efforts to strengthen military working all directions and domains.”
Contrary to its new purported security paradigm which apparently reflected China’s willingness to shun its military expansionism and realization of a necessity to adopt a reconciliatory rather than confrontationist approach, the AWR signals China’s more aggressive approach in the times to come. This became amply clear as China unveiled its military budget for 2023 which will increase by 7.2 per cent to roughly RMB 1.55 trillion (USD 224 billion).
China’s defence budget is the second largest in the world after the US over USD 800 billion. But the US is known for its role in saving democracy and people’s lives in war-torn regions of the world. It is for the third consecutive time that China’s official defence outlay has crossed the USD 200 mark. China has once again come under scanner amid rising geo-political tensions, its alleged covert support to Russia in the Ukraine war and its increasing belligerence over Taiwan and the South China Sea region.
Experts have pointed out that China’s defence budget is much higher than what is officially claimed. China has already the largest standing army and navy in the world. The ramped-up spending comes during a low point in relations between China and the United States. Beijing and Washington have butted heads in recent years over trade, human rights and other issues, but relations soured even further last month when the US shot down a Chinese balloon it said was being used for surveillance — a claim strenuously denied by Beijing.
The announcement to increase the defence budget could be traced to the realisation in the communique of the second plenary session, which emphasized that “at present changes of a magnitude not seen in a century are accelerating across the world, which has entered a new period of turbulence and change. Our country has entered a period of development in which strategic opportunities, risks, and challenges are concurrent and uncertainties and unforeseen factors are rising, and we have to be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms.”
The sustained growth in defence spending despite sagging economic expectations showed that “security is now much more important for the national leadership” than before, said Alfred Muluan Wu, an associate professor at the University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
On Taiwan, the AWR called for resolute steps to oppose “Taiwan’s independence” and maintained Beijing’s stand calling for a “peaceful reunion.” Top American officials have also repeatedly warned that China might invade Taiwan in the coming years, pointing to Beijing’s increasingly assertive military moves around the self-ruled island, which it sees as its own territory and has vowed to bring under its control.
Niklas Swanstrom, director of the Stockholm-based nonprofit the Institute for Security and Development Policy said Beijing appeared to be “investing in its capacity to take over Taiwan and keep the US out of the region”. But James Char, an expert on China’s military at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University pointed out that several countries across Asia were boosting their defence spending, in part due to “their respective threat perceptions of the regional security landscape”.
In a bid to indirectly rebut the alleged effort of Beijing to support Russia in its war against Ukraine, Premier Li said China should remain “committed to an independent foreign policy of peace”. However, he did not mention the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier the Second Plenary Session of the 20th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China was held in Beijing from February 26 to 28, 2023. The session deliberated and adopted a plan on the reform of Party and state institutions with the agreement to submit part of the reform plan to the first session of the 14th NPC for deliberation so as to modernise the national system and capacity of governance.
The plenary session also agreed that the Political Bureau of the CPC has held high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, which fully implemented Xi Jinping’s thoughts on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era and adhered to pursuing progress while ensuring stability. Xi Jinping is now poised for a third term as president and his handpicked loyalists would ensure that there is no dissension within the party and the government about China’s future trajectory.
The NPC in line with existence go for the reappointment of Xi as president after he locked in another five years as head of the party and the military — the two most significant leadership positions in Chinese politics in the October congress.
Last year, China widely missed its 5.5 per cent growth target as economic activities were stifled due to the Covid-19 containment policies and with property crisis. In 2023, the chances of China’s economic recovery and realization of its target growth look possible given the very low base of economic activities last year. The conclave will also see the unveiling of Xi’s confidant and former Shanghai party Chief Li Qiang as the new premier. In the remaining days, delegates to the NPC — and to the concurrent “political consultative conference” (CPPCC) will also discuss various institutional and economic issues. The meetings serve as a forum for attendees to present pet projects, but they have little say in broader questions of how China is run.
This week’s NPC meeting will formalize Xi’s leadership of the country’s third time as president, equaling Mao Zedong, China’s first leader, in terms of long tenure. Thus, Xi Jinping is set to deepen his control of China’s government and economy as the two sessions end and confirm Xi’s third term. (ANI)