Chinese servicemen are expected to receive higher salaries thanks to the larger budget for national defence, according to senior People's Liberation Army (PLA) officers attending the on-going Fourth Session of the Ninth National People's Congress (NPC).
"With the increase in the salaries of staff at government organizations and institutions, it is reasonable to increase the incomes of servicemen," said NPC deputy Sun Zhiqiang, deputy director of the General Logistics Department of the PLA.
"This is a very important reason for the increased military budget," said Sun in an interview with Chinadaily.
He said that the 2.5 million officers and soldiers in the forces will all be given pay rises.
The wages of some civilian staff employed by military units, such as hospitals and universities, will also be raised.
According to past practice, the salaries of servicemen and women in China should be 20 per cent higher than that of civil servants.
At present, however, the salaries of many military personnel are slightly below those of average civil servants.
Finance Minister Xiang Huaicheng told the NPC meeting last Tuesday that national defence has been allocated 141.004 billion yuan (US$17 billion) in this year's central budget, an increase of 17.7 per cent from the previous year.
"This shows how much the Party and the government care about servicemen, and it is good for their morale," said Sun.
China's military budget has been kept at a relatively low level in past years and the cost of running the forces on a day to day basis is relatively low, he said.
Another NPC deputy, Lu Fengbin, who is political commissar of the Fujian Provincial Military Region, said living conditions for some servicemen, especially those garrisoned on islands and in remote areas, are very harsh.
In his region, some barracks and basic facilities have not received the necessary maintenance because of lack of money.
Lu welcomed the new military budget and hoped the larger amount of money would help improve living conditions for servicemen.
Sun said that with the improving national economy, it is reasonable now to increase the military budget.
In past years, the State asked the military to "exercise patience," and relatively little money was spent on the forces so that more could be thrown at economic development, according to Sun.
Nevertheless, the State has increased investment in many sectors this year so that it is not just the military that is benefiting, he said.
According to Finance Minister Xiang, the education budget this year is 27.9 per cent up from last year, the science and technology budget is up 14.5 per cent and the agriculture budget is up 21.4 per cent.
Another purpose for increasing the military budget is to "help adapt to drastic changes in the world's military situation," said Sun, adding that it is the duty of China's armed forces to safeguard national territorial integrity and protect the safety of the nation.
"The modernization of the military is necessary. It is necessary for the defensive strategy we have adopted, which means that we do not threaten others," said Sun.
Lu said the basic philosophy of the PLA is that it only fights for the safety of the motherland and people, not for other purposes.
It has been found in the past that the proportion of money used to upgrade military hardware is not very big.
The Chinese military budget of last year was 121.29 billion yuan (US$14.6 billion), of which 38.93 billion yuan (US$4.69 billion) - or 32 per cent - was used on equipment.
The rest of the money was used to keep the military going on a day-to-day basis.
Compared with many countries, China's military budget is very small. It is only 5.5 per cent of the US budget, which is US$305.4 billion this year, and it is 30 per cent of Japan's military budget.
Lu dismissed speculation that the increased military budget is in any way directly linked with the Taiwan question.
The reunification of the motherland is the common wish of all Chinese people and the Taiwan question must be settled sooner or later, he said.
"We prefer peaceful means, but we are preparing for war to prevent the Taiwan authorities from going too far," he said.
The success of a war would not only rely on military hardware, but also and more importantly, on the common aspiration of the people, he said.
(China Daily 03/12/2001)