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China announces military budget hike

Times Staff Writer

China on Sunday announced a 17.8% jump in military spending for 2007, its largest in a decade, less than two months after a controversial antisatellite missile test sent shockwaves through foreign capitals.

The increase also comes after repeated Bush administration criticism that Beijing has not been forthcoming in explaining such funding hikes or its long-term military objectives.

Jiang Enzhu, a government spokesman, told reporters at the cavernous Great Hall of the People that China’s latest $44.9-billion budget was in line with economic growth and did not threaten the rest of the world.

“China has neither the wherewithal nor the intention to enter into an arms race with any country, and China won’t constitute a threat to any country,” he said on the eve of the 12-day session of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament. “China is committed to taking the path of peaceful development and pursuing a defensive military posture.”

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Jiang pointed out that China’s military budget was a shadow of America’s. The Bush administration has requested a $481.4-billion budget for the Defense Department in the fiscal year beginning in October, an 11.3% increase, although the figure does not include military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan or some nuclear weapons programs under the Department of Energy.

“Compared to other countries, especially major powers, China’s defense spending is relatively low, whether measured in absolute terms, proportion of gross national product or proportion of fiscal outlays,” Jiang said.

Using 2005 figures for comparison, the official added that China’s defense spending as a share of the national budget that year was 7.3%. That compared with 20% for the U.S., 11.4% for France and 9.2% for Germany.

Furthermore, he added, higher wages and living allowances and armament upgrades for “defensive operations” would take up most of the spending. “This increase is compensatory in nature in order to make up for the weak national defense foundation of our country,” Jiang said.

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U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, in Beijing to confer with Chinese officials, called for more extensive explanation on China’s spending, intentions and the military doctrine underpinning its programs.

“It’s not so much the budget and the increases as it is with understanding those questions better through dialogue and transparency,” he said Sunday. Negroponte is visiting China, Japan and South Korea, his first trip to the region since his Senate confirmation last month.

Some foreign analysts say China’s actual spending may be several times the official budget figure after secret programs, paramilitary forces and weapons development are factored in. The 2-million-strong People’s Liberation Army is the world’s largest. China historically has placed more emphasis on manpower than on technology, a tradition it is trying to reverse.

Analysts said the 17.8% budget increase, which comes after a 14.7% increase last year, reflects three priorities: better paid troops, improved missile systems and more modern air, naval and nuclear capability.

As China’s economy has expanded, its military personnel have become increasingly concerned that their wages have not kept pace, analysts said. In recent years, former soldiers have even taken to the streets, outraged that their promised pensions were not forthcoming.

Given that the PLA and its paramilitary cousins are seen as the final defender of the Communist Party’s political monopoly, these complaints have been taken seriously.

“A colonel has only been getting $240 a month,” said Ni Lexiong, a professor and military expert at the Shanghai Institute of Political Science and Law, adding that significant increases are in the works. “How can people send their kids to school and support their family? This is obviously too low.”

Zhou Jianhui, 44, a disabled veteran living in Shanghai who was injured during boot camp and while doing military flood control work, said his monthly pension had increased to $110 from $105.

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“These increases sound good in the newspapers, but when it gets to the local level, they don’t take care of us,” he said. “I think they put lots into weapons, but relatively little into social security, at least for ordinary soldiers.”

Analysts say the Chinese military is also entering a more expensive phase in its bid to develop its own weapons systems.

“After years of mainly focusing on R&D;, which has been largely successful, it’s now time to focus on mass production,” said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei, the Taiwanese capital. “That takes more resources.”

China’s big-ticket programs include the recently unveiled Jian-10, a homegrown multi-role fighter jet. The PLA is also working on more advanced nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines and intercontinental, medium-range and submarine-based missiles, analysts say.

On Jan. 11, China destroyed an aging Chinese weather satellite about 540 miles above Earth by slamming a ground-based ballistic missile into it, the first successful use of this technology since a U.S. test in 1985. Washington said the move risked escalating military rivalries in outer space.

China’s antisatellite test and military buildup were “not consistent with Beijing’s stated goal of a peaceful rise,” Vice President Dick Cheney said on his recent visit to Asia.

Much of China’s military expansion appears aimed at ensuring that Taiwan does not declare independence. China’s Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing to the Communists in the civil war. Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province and has threatened to take the island back by force if it declares statehood.

“We will use all our sincerity and efforts to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification, but absolutely will not tolerate Taiwan independence,” Jiang said Sunday.

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Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian added to long-standing tensions, making strongly pro-independence statements Sunday at a banquet marking the 25th anniversary of a pro-independence group.

“Taiwan should be independent,” Chen said in a Taiwanese dialect, according to the Associated Press.

“Taiwan is a country whose sovereignty lies outside the People’s Republic of China.”

In meetings with Negroponte on Saturday and Sunday, China voiced its displeasure with a U.S. plan to sell 450 air and ground-based missiles to Taiwan.

Negroponte said he countered that the $421-million weapons package approved for possible sale to the island last week was defensive in nature.

Negroponte said he and his Chinese counterparts also discussed Iran, Sudan, North Korea and human rights. He declined to provide details.

mark.magnier@latimes.com

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Gu Bo in The Times’ Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.


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