BEIJING, March 4 (PTI): China on Saturday signalled at increasing its defence budget, the second biggest after the US, citing “complex security challenges” ahead of its annual Parliament session during which it will unveil a new ministerial and official leadership, including a successor to Premier Li Keqiang.
The annual season of China’s rubber-stamp Parliament began on Saturday with the opening meeting of the top advisory body the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) while its national legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), will begin its session on Sunday.
Over 5,000 deputies and advisors will take part in the two sessions lasting for over a week during which China will formally unveil its new ministerial and top official leadership including a new Premier to succeed Li, who will be retiring.
Li is widely expected to be succeeded by President Xi Jinping’s loyalist Li Qiang.
Except for President Xi, 69, all top officials will be replaced as part of the practice of changing the leadership team every 10 years.
Xi and a new set of officials — mostly stated to be his loyalists — were elected to various key posts of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) at its once-in-a-five-year Congress here in October last year.
Xi, regarded as the most powerful leader holding the key posts of head of the party, the military and the Presidency, has been elected for an unprecedented third five-year term continuing in power beyond the 10-year tenure followed by his predecessors.
Ahead of the NPC session, its spokesman Wang Chao signalled an increase in its defence budget, which last year totalled USD 230 billion after a 7.1 per cent rise, the second largest after the US defence spending of USD 777.1 billion.
Wang, while not disclosing the amount, which he said will be formally revealed at the NPC on Sunday, defended China’s steady increases in annual defence budgets, saying China’s defence spending as a share of the GDP was lower than the world average.
China has been ramping up its defence expenditure as it vied with the US for global influence.
Its last year’s defence budget was over three times that of India’s defence spending of about USD 70 billion.
Wang said the increase in the defence budget is needed to meet the “complex security challenges for China to fulfil its responsibilities as a major country.”
China’s military modernisation will not be a threat to any country but a positive force safeguarding regional stability and world peace, he said.
He also refuted allegations of China’s debt trap diplomacy in Africa, saying that Beijing is not the largest creditor of Africa citing data from the World Bank.
On Friday, Guo Weimin, spokesperson of the CPPCC said the allegations of “debt traps” linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are a groundless smear, and Beijing will not stop the initiative from going forward.
China’s investments like that of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which it acquired as part of a debt swap led to allegations of debt traps.
Guo said to avoid creating new debt risks for countries participating in the BRI initiative, China has taken into account their conditions when offering loans for their projects.
The BRI, which involves mainly infrastructure and production, has added to high-quality assets in participating countries, he said.
By mid-February, China had signed more than 200 BRI cooperation documents with 151 countries and 32 international organisations, Guo said.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the initiative, which was proposed by President Xi in 2013. It aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.