China’s military budget to grow at slowest pace in five years

02:20 - Source: CNN
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Story highlights

China's military budget will increase by 7% to 8% in 2016

It's a slower pace than in previous years which saw double-digit growth

China's military build-up has worried its neighbors, especially in the South China Sea

Beijing CNN —  

China says its military budget will increase by 7% to 8% in 2016, the slowest pace in five years.

Fu Ying, the spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, which begins its annual 11-day session Saturday, said Friday the increase was based on “defense needs” and government revenue.

The lower-than-expected figure comes amid an economic slowdown, with China’s growth rate at its weakest in a quarter of a century.

China said it would spend a total of 887 billion yuan ($144.2 billion) in 2015, an increase of 10.1%.

This is only a quarter of what the U.S. spends on its military. But, while China’s budget has increased by double digits every year since 2010, U.S. spending has declined since then.

Fu said the government would release exact figures Saturday.

Regional tensions

China’s military build-up has unsettled its neighbors and Washington, particularly as Beijing has taken a more robust stance in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Large-scale land reclamation by China has transformed sandbars into islands equipped with airstrips, ports and even missiles.

Fu blamed the United States for militarizing the South China Sea, saying that most of the advanced aircraft and warships passing through the disputed waters belong to the U.S. military.

Traditionally, the People’s Liberation Army has been focused on protecting its own borders, but recent missions have seen it join U.N. peacekeeping efforts in places like South Sudan, and fighting piracy in Somalia.

The country has started work on its first military base overseas – in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

China is also trying to modernize its military.

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In September, President Xi Jinping pledged to cut 300,000 troops from the 2.3 million strong PLA.

China’s actual defense spending is often higher than the announced budget, according to Yvonne Chiu, an assistant professor in politics and public administration at Hong Kong University, who said that China was looking to spend its money more wisely as the economy slows.

She said China was likely to focus on new technology, the South China Sea and its overseas presence.

“The budget is irrelevant in some ways – it’s how the money gets spent.”