China to raise 2017 defense budget by around 7 percent: spokesperson

This undated photo shows two Chinese jet fighters during a military drill in the South China Sea near China's Hainan Island. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

China will raise its defense budget by around 7 percent this year, a spokesperson for the annual session of the country's top legislature said on Saturday.

At a press conference a day before the National People's Congress (NPC) convenes its yearly meeting, spokesperson Fu Ying said that China's defense spending will remain around 1.3 percent of the country's GDP.

The announcement comes amid US plans to boost military and security spending by 10 percent. On Monday, the US Office of Management and Budget announced that US President Donald Trump's budget proposal would boost military and security spending by $54 billion, or 10 percent, with a corresponding reduction in all other discretionary spending.

In view of US defense spending plans, Chinese Lt. Gen. Wang Hongguang, a retired deputy commander of the former Nanjing Military Command, on Friday called for a 12 percent increase of the Chinese defense budget.

An actual defense spending target wasn't expected until Sunday, when the Ministry of Finance releases its 2017 budget at the start of the 11-day legislative gathering. 7 percent would be the slowest increase in more than a decade.

The Chinese military budget is the second largest in the world after that of the US. Last year, China's defense budget increased by 7.6 percent as compared to 2015.

China is in the midst of its biggest military overhaul since the aftermath of the Korean War. Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for cutting 300,000 personnel from the 2.3-million-member People's Liberation Army and updating its Soviet-inspired command structure.

Xi is tilting the military away from a traditional land-based force to favor the naval and air forces needed to protect maritime resources and trading routes vital to China's economy. As China pursues its "One Belt, One Road" initiative to build an intercontinental web of infrastructure and trade links, it has greater need to project power further from home.

China's defence budget has been closely watched in recent years as it has become more assertive in its territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

According to reports, the first Chinese-made aircraft carrier is currently under construction. China's only aircraft carrier in operation, known as Liaoning, is a former Soviet-era vessel that China acquired from Ukraine in 1998. It arrived without an engine or electrical systems and took years to modify.

China also seeks to continue constructing military bases in contested areas in the South China Sea, some of which are up to 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away from the Chinese mainland. The US has strongly condemned China's construction of man-made islands.

"It is nobody's business what we do on our own territory," said Wang Guoqing, spokesman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The CPPCC, which is a consultative body to the NPC, convened on Friday.

In February at the Munich Security Conference, Fu, the speaker of the NPC, said that increasing Chinese military expenditures was necessary, while adding that the US government was calling for NATO allies to contribute 2 percent of GDP to defense.

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