China: Military spending to grow 18 percent
BEIJING – A top U.S. envoy on Sunday urged China to be more open about its military spending, hours after the government announced a 17.8 percent increase in its defense budget – the biggest in more than a decade.The $44.9 billion budget for 2007 would mainly be spent on higher wages and living allowances for members of the armed forces and on upgrading armaments “in order to enhance the military’s ability to conduct defensive operations,” Jiang Enzhu, a spokesman for China’s national legislature, said at a news conference. He did not give any details.China’s 2.3 million-strong military is the world’s largest and has been criticized abroad for not being open about its spending. Unlike the U.S., where Congress is required to approve the military budget, China’s military is extremely secretive and rarely releases information on its spending.The Pentagon believes China’s total military spending may be much greater since the announced budget does not include key items such as weapons purchases.The 2007 budget marks an increase of $6.84 billion over last year and is the third highest jump since 1990, surpassed only by increases of 21 percent in 1995 and 18 percent in 1994.U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who was visiting Beijing on Sunday, urged more dialogue between the Pentagon and the Chinese military “so that we have a bit better understanding of exactly what it is that the government of China has in mind with respect to its military modernization.”Negroponte’s stance underscored remarks by Vice President Dick Cheney, who criticized China’s military ambitions last month while on a swing through Asia.He said some of the country’s actions were at odds with its words about its military expansion being peaceful, pointing to a January test in which China fired a missile into a defunct weather satellite, making it just the third nation to use a weapon beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.But Jiang defended the military budget as “quite modest” compared to what is spent by Britain, France, Japan, and the United States, where President Bush has signed a bill authorizing $532.8 billion in military spending for the 2007 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.”China has neither the wherewithal or the intention to enter into an arms race with any country and China does not and will not pose a threat to any country,” Jiang said at the Great Hall of the People, where the legislature, formally known as the National People’s Congress, will begin its 12-day session on Monday.In the past, Beijing has spent heavily on adding submarines, jet fighters and other high-tech weapons to its arsenal, which despite its size, lags well behind those of other major nations. In recent years, leaders have focused on improving training and advanced technology in an effort to close that gap.China’s military spending is largely oriented toward Taiwan, which split with the mainland in 1949 amid civil war and has refused Beijing’s offers for peaceful reunification with the mainland.Jiang said moves toward independence “will pose grim challenges for cross-strait relations,” and said Taiwanese voters would abandon President Chen Shui-bian, whose steadfastly pro-independence stance has earned him the scorn of Beijing.”If you want to push for independence for Taiwan, you will not have success at the end of the day,” he said.