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China to Increase Defense Spending by 11.6% in 2004

China plans to raise its expenditures for national defense by 21.83 billion yuan (about 2.6billion US dollars) this year, or an 11.6 percent rise over 2003, Finance Minister Jin Renqing said in a budget report Saturday.

The increase is aimed to improve the defensive combat readinessof the armed forces under hi-tech conditions and to raise the salaries of army personnel and the pensions for ex-servicemen, theminister said at the annual session of the national legislature.

China's budgetary military spending for 2003 was 185.3 billion yuan (about 22.3 billion dollars). The actual defense spending of the year was not available.

Defense analysts here say that this year's double-digit increase of defense expenditures, along with an on-going disarmament endeavor aimed at trimming the 2.5-million-man People's Liberation Army (PLA) by 200,000 by the year 2005, is in line with the country's army building principle of keeping "fewer but better" troops.

In his government work report to the national legislature Friday, Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to "energetically carry forwardmilitary reforms" and work hard to "modernize national defense andarmed forces to a higher stage of development."

China will focus on developing new and high technology weaponryand equipment, foster a new type of highly competent military personnel, and promote modernization of the armed forces with IT application as the main content and mechanization as the basis, the premier said.

Deputies to the national legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), civilians and army officers as well, welcomed the raise of defense expenditures.

"Compared with many other countries, China's defense spending has been kept at a rather low level," said Zuo Qunsheng, an NPC deputy from the booming eastern coastal province of Jiangsu.

"National defense indicates a country's national strength and serves as a fundamental guarantee to its long-term prosperity and stability, so I think it's necessary to moderately increase our financial input in national defense," said Zuo, adding, "This willalso have a positive effect on world peace and stability."

Liu Baosheng, an NPC deputy and a senior researcher with the PLA air force, said that military officers and soldiers would "feel quite happy" for the proposed rise of defense spending.

"It shows the government's firm determination to boost development of national defense and improve the servicemen's welfare," he said.

"Despite a constant increase over the past few years, China's defense spending, which had a very low starting point, only accounts for a very small proportion of the country's GDP and remains conspicuously lower than the world's average level," Liu added.

Sources say that since the early years of China's reform and opening-up drive, which helped the country achieve an average annual GDP growth of over 8 percent in the past 25 years, Chinese authorities have asked the army to endure difficulties and sacrifice defense expenditures for higher economic growth.

"As a result, many weapons and equipment in the army's arsenal turned outdated, while the army servicemen's wages and subsidies were lower than the average social income levels," said one sourcewho asked not to be named.

Diplomatic observers here also acknowledged that faced with a volatile international situation and challenges of terrorism, splittism and potential nuclear threats, China must build up a strong, reliable national defense force for its pursuit of a sustained development and a "peaceful rise" on the world arena.

According to a white paper on China's national defense issued in December 2002, the Chinese government has always been strict inits control, management and supervision of defense spending, and has formed a complete system of relevant laws and regulations for that purpose.

Army generals have also repeatedly vowed to "make a good use ofevery penny of the defense expenditures" by abiding by the principle of "building the army in a frugal and thrifty manner."

Jiang Zemin, chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission, the country's paramount military organ, has urged the PLA to concentrate its "limited strategic resources" on army modernization by conducting necessary disarmaments.

Since the founding of new China in 1949, the PLA has undergone major downsizing for nine times, with its total servicemen number reducing to below the 2.5-million-strong mark by the end of 1999 from a high of 6.27 million during the Korean war in 1951.

Premier Wen pledged on Friday to ensure that the current disarmament of the PLA, which kicked off last September, is scheduled to be completed by 2005.

(Xinhua News  Agency  March 7, 2004)

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