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China plans steep increase in defense spending

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times –

BEIJING — China on Sunday announced an 11.2 percent increase in its 2012 defense budget, the latest double-digit hike in recent years. For the first time, the defense budget will top $100 billion and the figures are believed by international experts to omit such large-ticket spending as its space program.

Although the increase is not as large as last year’s, it is enough to provoke anxiety at a time when the United States is shifting military resources to the Asia-Pacific region.

The budget was announced on the eve of the opening session of the National People’s Congress, China’s equivalent of a legislature, At a news conference Sunday, Li Zhaoxing, a spokesman for the Congress, announced the $110 billion budget, while stating that the spending “constitutes no threat to other countries.”

“You can see that we have 1.3 billion people with a large land area and a long coastline, but our outlays on defense are quite low compared to other major countries,” Li said.

In comparison, the U.S. Congress has approved $662 billion in Pentagon spending for next year, $43 billion lower than this year’s budget.

China has been trying to upgrade its naval power and in August unveiled an aircraft carrier it is developing: a refurbished Soviet model acquired from Ukraine. It also did a test flight early last year of a prototype of a stealth fighter jet.

China is “growing bolder with regard to their expanded regional and global presence, and China continues to challenge the United States and our partners in the region in the maritime, cyber and space domains,” Adm. Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. “They continue to advance their capabilities and capacities in all areas.”

In recent years, China has made more assertive maritime claims, unnerving neighbors, particularly Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Last year at this time, Beijing announced a 12.7 percent increase in military spending, after a 7.5 percent increase in 2010.

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