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China's Defense Budget Threatens No One, Congress Told

The proposed budget rise in China's defense spending for this year should not be used as an excuse for spreading the so-called fallacy of a "China threat,'' National People's Congress (NPC) deputies and military experts said Wednesday.

They stressed that the appropriate increase in expenditures for national defense will not change the nature of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) as a defensive force.

The comments came after Minister of Finance Xiang Huaicheng announced an increase of 17.6 percent, or 25.2 billion yuan (US$3.04 billion), in the central defense budget for 2002.

But Xiang did not give a breakdown of the budget in his report on the draft central and local budgets for 2002 at the ongoing Fifth Session of the Ninth NPC.

Last year, China approved a 141 billion yuan (US$17.04 billion) budget for defense spending, 17.7 percent more than in the previous year.

Deputy Xu Genchu, vice-president of the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, said the country's military spending is still relatively low in terms of both gross and per capita defense expenditures, compared with some developed countries or even some developing countries among its neighbors.

As in most other countries, the rise in military expenditures naturally follows the expansion of China's national economy, he said.

Furthermore, Xu said, most of the increased budget will be used to support the 2.5 million army and its basic operating expenses.

"Simply feeding the large standing army takes a huge part of the military spending, as we have to keep raising the living standard of our soldiers and officers in order to maintain the army's morale.''

Part of the budget will be spent on "appropriately raising the salaries of officers, noncommissioned officers and office staff on the regular payroll, subsidies for conscripts and the pensions for retired servicemen,'' Xiang said in his report.

Commissar of the PLA University of National Defense Zhao Keming, also an NPC deputy, said a relatively large part of the budget is used for the maintenance of military equipment.

"Only a very limited amount of the money, if any, is spent on appropriately and necessarily updating and improving weaponry to ensure the army's basic defensive combat capabilities,'' Zhao said.

Deputy Gu Yongqing, former commissar of the PLA Beijing Military Area Command, said that China actually runs the army on a minimal budget.

He added that the central government's decision to detach the PLA from army-run business enterprises also contributed to the small rise in military spending.

In July 1998, President Jiang Zemin ordered the PLA to divest itself of its business interests.

The NPC deputies hit out at some foreign media and politicians for exaggerating the significance of the increased defense spending to support their "China threat'' fallacy.

"These people have ulterior motives in spreading such a fallacy, so they overlook the basic fact that China has always pursued a defensive national defense policy,'' Zhao said.

"We are not targeting any other foreign country while building our defensive capabilities.''

Gu noted that China, as a peace-loving nation which has pledged never to seek hegemony, has neither the need nor ambition to invade other countries.

(China Daily March 7, 2002)

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