China sets 2018 growth target at 'around 6.5 per cent'

The figure released in a report Monday to the ceremonial National People's Congress is an increase in the growth rate from a year ago, when finance ministry officials said the budget was rising 7 percent to 1 trillion yuan ($151 billion).

China will "advance all aspects of military training and war preparedness, and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests", Premier Li Keqiang said in an address at parliament's opening session.

"We would like to see China be more transparent about its defence policy, including spending and the direction of its military power", Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, told a regular briefing.

The defence budget increase has roughly followed the same pace as China's national economic output in recent years. China previous year increased the defence budget to $150.5 billion.

Last year, defence spending was set to increase just 7 percent, to 1.044 trillion yuan ($164.60 billion), or about one-quarter of the proposed US defence spending for the year.

That marked about a 7 percent increase, continuing a trend of lowered growth amid a slowing economy, despite regional tensions over the South China Sea and other issues. "It is extremely alarming for Australia and many other countries in the region", said Sam Roggeveen, Visiting Fellow at the Strategic and Defense Studies Center, Australian National University in Canberra.

Erickson said China has the world's second largest defense budget after the United States, enabling it to achieve the largest and fastest shipbuilding expansion in modern history, the world's largest navy, coast guard and maritime militia by number of ships, and the world's largest conventional ballistic and cruise missile force.

China Monday announced an 8.1 per cent hike in its defence budget in 2018 to a whopping $175 billion, over three times higher than that of India, as an increasingly assertive Beijing focused on the modernisation and reach of the country's military, amidst simmering disputes with its neighbours.

Noting that this year's increase was roughly the same as last year's when adjusted for inflation, Shanghai military expert Ni Lexiong said China was seeking to avoid a full-on arms race based on quantity of weapons, choosing instead to invest in high-tech systems and training.

One senior Asia diplomat, speaking before the announcement was made, said the real rise would likely be at least double what China revealed considering efforts to build up the industrial military complex and deepen military-civilian integration.

China's defense spending as a share of GDP and the budget also remains lower than that of other major nations, he said.

  • Rogelio Becker