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China hikes defence spending by 6.6%, lowest rate in years

China hikes defence spend

China will increase its defence spending by 6.6% in 2020, the lowest rate in years as it battles an economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus outbreak, the government said Friday.

The figure is down from the double-digit percentage increases of just a few years ago that have given China the second biggest defence budget in the world behind the U.S. Spending will total 1.3 trillion yuan ($180 billion), according to the website of the National People's Congress, the ceremonial parliament that opened its annual session Friday.

The People’s Liberation Army, the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, is the world’s largest standing military and in recent years has added aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered submarines and stealth fighters to its arsenal, most of them produced domestically.

China says the increases in spending mostly go toward improving conditions for troops, while foreign analysts say actual spending could be much higher because many items are not included in the official budget.

Defence outlays rose by 7.5% last year to 1.2 trillion yuan ($178 billion), while independent experts estimated real spending on the military exceeded $220 billion when off-budget expenses were added in.

This year's spending will expand China’s navy and acquire advanced aircraft and other weapons to help Beijing enforce its territorial claims in the South China Sea and expand its military presence in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. Another key priority is maintaining a credible threat against Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy China considers its own territory to be brought under its control by military force if necessary.

"We will ... resolutely oppose and deter any separatist activities seeking ‘Taiwan independence,’” China's Premier Li Keqiang said in a policy address to the congress.

The increase comes despite a 6.8% contraction in the world’s second-largest economy in the first quarter and a swelling government budget deficit required to help meet targets including creating 9 million new urban jobs.



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