China Boosts Military Spending

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 5, 2007

BEIJING, March 5 -- China announced Sunday that it will increase military spending at a sharply higher rate this year, budgeting a rise of nearly 18 percent, and a senior U.S. official immediately called for clarity on the planned expenditures.

Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte said at a news conference at the end of his maiden visit to Beijing in his new post that the Bush administration is dissatisfied with China's unwillingness to share such information. "We think it's important in our dialogue that we understand what China's plans and intentions are," he said.

The government's military budget announcement and Negroponte's swift appeal for more transparency highlighted a particularly uneasy point in what has become a broad, close and increasingly important U.S.-China relationship.

Negroponte has been assigned the lead role in managing that relationship, a mission he emphasized by calling on Chinese officials so soon after his Feb. 13 swearing-in. Apparently by coincidence, the Chinese government chose the same moment to announce that its declared military expenditures for 2007 will amount to $44.94 billion, an increase of 17.8 percent.

According to Pentagon estimates, that declared total represents about a third of actual military spending if equipment purchases are taken into account. But even that would amount to only a fraction of the U.S. military budget, which is proposed to rise to about $623 billion for fiscal 2008.

China has been steadily increasing military expenditures for more than a decade, seeking to recover from a long lag compared with other major powers. But the figure for 2007 drew attention because it represents the biggest jump in several years.

In reaction to the spending climb and resulting improvements in China's forces, the United States has regularly urged China to open its ultra-secretive military to more scrutiny and share its strategic outlook with Washington to avoid misunderstandings in the region. The outgoing U.S. Pacific Command chief, Adm. William J. Fallon, was particularly active in seeking to organize more contacts between the two military hierarchies.

Negroponte said he, too, will push for closer connections. "It's not so much the budget and the increases as it is understanding these things through dialogue and contacts," he said.

A spokesman for the National People's Congress, which opened its annual session Monday, said military expenditures were rising to cover the cost of better training and higher salaries in the 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army and benefits for about 200,000 soldiers shed from the ranks over the past several years. Reducing the lower ranks and improving technological training for remaining troops have been major parts of the country's long-range military improvement program.

The spokesman, Jiang Enzhu, said China's military expenditures do not represent a threat to other countries because President Hu Jintao's government has vowed to use the military only in "defensive operations." He added that "China is committed to following the path of peaceful development, and it has adopted a defensive posture."

The official New China News Agency quoted the head of the military's General Logistics Department, Liao Xilong, as saying that the extra money would also go toward improving China's ability to wage high-tech warfare, to defend its information systems against jamming and to coordinate among land, air and sea forces.

"The present-day world is none too peaceful," he said, according to the news agency. "To protect national security and territorial integrity, we must adequately increase spending on military modernization."

Premier Wen Jiabao, delivering his annual government report to the National People's Congress, also underlined the country's determination to modernize its armed forces, saying they must be able to "effectively carry out the historic mission of the army in the new stage of the new century."

"We will intensify defense-related research and efforts to produce advanced weaponry and equipment," he told the legislature.

Laying out his government's aims for 2007, Wen also vowed to increase spending on environmental protection, rural education and health insurance for the poor. He forecast that China's economy will grow by 8 percent this year, which would mark a significant drop from the 10.7 percent recorded in 2006.

Underlying China's determination to build a more modern military -- and a factor in the U.S. call for transparency -- is the risk of conflict over Taiwan, which sits 100 miles off the mainland.

The island has been self-ruled since Nationalist forces fled there in 1949 as Mao Zedong's Communist troops took power. But in Beijing's eyes it remains a Chinese province that must at some point return to the fold. The government here has vowed to use force as a last resort if Taiwan moves decisively toward formal independence.

Negroponte said Chinese officials raised with him the Bush administration's recent decision to sell Taiwan about 400 missiles, contending that the $421 million deal violated U.S. commitments to a one-China policy. In response, Negroponte said, he emphasized Washington's adherence to the one-China principle but reminded them of legislation mandating U.S. help for Taiwan's defense.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company