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China's defense spending still fairly low: official
China's defense spending, slated to rise 11.6 percent this year, is proportionately lower than that of many nations and the principle of building the army through frugality should be adhered to, the military's top budget official said Saturday.

The increase is aimed to improve the defensive combat readiness of the armed forces under hi-tech conditions and to raise the salaries of army personnel and the pensions for ex-servicemen, Finance Minister Jin Renqing said in a budget report Saturday at the annual session of the national legislature.

The budgeted military spending of 21.83 billion yuan (about 2.6 billion US dollars), submitted to the national legislature on Saturday, accounts for only around 1.7 percent of China's total GDP volume. Compared with the world's average level of 3 percent, China's defense expenditure is still at a fairly low level, said Ding Jiye, head of finances for the People's liberation Army's General Logistics Department, in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

China's budgetary military spending for 2003 was 185.3 billion yuan (about 22.3 billion dollars). China's military expenditure only makes up 8 percent of the country's total financial expenditure, still lower than the world's average level of 15 percent.

The per capita military expenditure of the United States is nearly 300,000 US dollars, and the figures in Britain and Japan are nearly 200,000 US dollars, compared with China's 10,000 US dollars.

"In general, China's defense expenditure is still at a fairly low level, compared with the major countries of the world. The current defense expenditure hardly meets the needs of furthering military reform and building a technically advanced army," Ding said.

He noted that the army has scored some achievements in the reforms in its budget system, procurement system and social security system, and the principle of building an army through hard work and frugality should be further adhered to.

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 forward military reforms" and work hard to "modernize national defense and armed forces to a higher stage of development."

China will focus on developing new and high technology weaponry and 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 will also 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 source who 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 in its 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 of every 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.

By People's Daily Online

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