China’s defence spending this year will rise at the slowest rate in three decades but will still increase by an impressive 6.6% from 2019, as the country grapples with what it sees as growing security threats and a wilting economy, APA reports citing Reuters.
The figure, set at 1.268 trillion yuan ($178.16 billion) in the national budget released on Friday, is closely watched as a barometer of how aggressively the country will beef up its military.
China’s economy shrank 6.8% in the first quarter of 2020 compared with a year earlier, as the coronavirus spread from the central city of Wuhan, where it emerged late last year.
China omitted a 2020 economic growth target for the first time and pledged government support for the economy in Premier Li Keqiang’s work report on Friday, launching the country’s annual parliament meeting.
Still, Li pledged that the armed forces, the world’s largest, should not be worse off.
“We will deepen reforms in national defence and the military, increase our logistic and equipment support capacity, and promote innovative development of defence-related science and technology,” he told about 3,000 legislators in the largely rubber-stamp body.
Despite the coronavirus outbreak, the armed forces of China and the United States have remained active in the disputed South China Sea and around Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
China also faces the prospect of more unrest in Hong Kong in reaction to Beijing’s plans to impose national security legislation in the city.
Bates Gill, Professor of Asia-Pacific Security Studies at Macquarie University in Australia, said the growth of the defence budget strikes a balance, and reflects the tighter budgetary climate and the need to address other economic priorities.
“That said, 6.6% growth is not insignificant and is perhaps multiples higher than expected GDP growth for the coming year,” he said.
China’s military faces a challenge in the recruitment, training and retention of better-educated and technologically savvy soldiers to operate in a more complex and high-tech future, Gill added.