China increases military budget but defies pressure to match US spending

Tareq Haddad

Defying pressure to match the US on defence spending, China announced its lowest increase of its military budget for seven years.

The East Asian country has typically pursued a policy of double-digit increases in its budget since 2010, but reversed that last year when it increased its spending by 7.6%, according to state officials.

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On Saturday (4 March), Fu Ying, a spokeswoman for the National People's Congress, said the defence budget would further drop to 7%, equal to roughly 1.3% of China's gross domestic product.

The announcement comes days after US President Donald Trump announced he planned a $54bn hike in American defence spending. It would mark a 10% rise than the previous year, if his budget plan is approved by the US Congress.

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Fu Ying said that China had no intention of being drawn into an arms race with the US, despite the giant rise in spending.

"President Xi Jinping and President Trump have had two direct phone calls, and the message was very clear, which is that there must be more cooperation between China and the United States so we become good partners," she said, according to the New York Times. "Of course, everyone hopes that their impact will be positive, but if there are challenges, China will respond calmly."

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Although there are concerns about China's increasing military strength, especially in light of growing tension in the South China Sea region, Fu rightly said that the US military was still vastly superior to that of China.

"Fundamentally, this is about the US worrying that China could catch up and surpass the US in its ability," Fu said. "But in fact there is a still a huge gap in ability between the U.S. and China, which is still a developing country."

With both rises in budgets taken into consideration, America's spending would eclipse $600bn whereas China's would be roughly $150bn in yuan equivalent.

According to International Institute of Strategic Studies, the current US defence budget was set at $598bn (£486.3bn). The combined spending of the next 14 countries with the highest military spending in the world – which includes Russia, the UK, Saudi Arabia and China – comes to $664bn. Defence spending by the rest of the world totals $317bn.

China's Peoples' Liberation Army soldiers

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