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China eyes 15% defense budget rise

CHINA plans to increase its defense spending nearly 15 percent in 2009 to improve living conditions for its soldiers and modernize equipment, a spokesman for the country's legislature said in Beijing yesterday.

The planned military budget totals 480.7 billion yuan (US$70 billion), a rise of 62.5 billion yuan from last year, Li Zhaoxing, spokesman for the National People's Congress, told a news conference. This year's draft budget will be considered at the NPC annual session due to open in the capital today.

Under the plan, defense spending would account for 6.3 percent of the country's total fiscal expenditures in 2009, down slightly from the figure for previous years, Li said.

The planned budget boost follows a 17.6 percent increase in 2008.

Li said the proposal for increased spending is mainly designed for better treatment of service personnel, adding that more money would be used to adjust subsidies and salaries to raise their living standards.

The increased budget would also be spent on the purchase of equipment and construction of facilities to enhance the ability of military forces to defend the country in the "information age," Li said.

The capacity of the armed forces for disaster relief and anti-terror operations would also be enhanced. Spending on the reconstruction of military facilities damaged in the 8.0-magnitude earthquake that hit southwest China's Sichuan Province on May 12 last year was also listed in the budget, he said.

Li described the defense budget growth as "modest," saying that China's defense expenditures were fairly low compared with other countries, considering the size of China's population and territory.

"China's defense expenditures accounted for 1.4 percent of its GDP in 2008," Li said. "The ratio was 4 percent for the United States and more than 2 percent for the United Kingdom, France and other countries."

"China's limited military force is mainly used for safeguarding our sovereignty and territory and presents no threat to any other country," he said.

Li said the Chinese government began submitting annual reports on military expenditures to the United Nations in 2007. "So the country has no so-called 'hidden military expenditures,'" he added.

In a white paper on 2008 national defense issued in January this year, China said its defense expenditures were always at "reasonable and appropriate levels."

"Both the total amount and per-service-person share of China's defense expenditure remain lower than those of some major powers," it said.

In the past three decades of reform and opening, China has insisted that defense development should be both subordinate to and in the service of the country's overall economic development, according to the paper.

In the past two years, increases in defense spending were used primarily to raise salaries and benefits for service personnel, compensate for inflation and advance "the revolution" in military affairs, the document said.


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