BEIJING: China's military budget will grow by about 10 percent in the coming year, a legislative spokeswoman said Wednesday to AP.
Despite slowing economic growth that fell to 7.4% last year, and which is expected to further decline in 2015, the fifth year in a row double digit increase will bring the total military budget to about $145 billion.
Beijing says the bigger budgets are merely aimed at modernizing and improving conditions for the 2.3 million members of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the world's largest standing military.
However, the Pentagon and global arms bodies estimate actual spending may be anywhere from 40 to 50 percent more because the budget doesn't include the costs of high-tech weapons imports, research and development, and other key programs.
The higher spending is seen as a reflection of China's growing economic might and its desire to assert itself in the region and internationally. The planned increase of about 10% - to be confirmed Thursday at the opening of the National People's Congress (NPC) - is in line with the overall increase in government spending planned for 2015, NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying told a news conference
China's spending draws instant comparisons to trends among other countries in the region, many of which have been unnerved by China's rise.
Japan increased its defense budget by 2.8% this year to a record $42 billion, the third consecutive year of increases following 11 years of declines prior to hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's rise to power in 2012. Planes and naval vessels to counter China's growing capabilities top the Japanese military's shopping list.
Similarly, India, the world's biggest arms importer in recent years, increased its spending this year by 17% to $40 billion, with big increases for the navy and air force.
China and India have a disputed land border and New Delhi has expressed concern about the PLA navy's growing presence in the Indian Ocean.
In comparison, however, China's spending is still less than a third of the U.S. defense budget, a proposed $534 billion this year along with $51 billion for the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.