February 28, 2017 / 9:15 AM / 6 months ago

China says hopes U.S. defence spending benefits global stability

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said it hoped U.S. defence spending would be beneficial to maintaining global peace and stability, after the White House proposed a 10 percent increase in military spending.

The proposed rise in the Pentagon budget to $603 billion comes as the United States has wound down major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and remains the world's strongest military power.

An official familiar with the proposal said U.S. President Donald Trump's request for the Pentagon included more money for shipbuilding, military aircraft and establishing "a more robust presence in key international waterways and choke points" such as the Strait of Hormuz and the disputed South China Sea.

That could put Washington at odds with China, which claims most of the South China Sea and has alarmed its neighbours by building artificial islands and airports there, among other facilities.

"We hope that relevant U.S. policies and measures can benefit the maintenance of global peace and stability," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing, when asked about the proposed U.S. increase.

It was hypothetical to link the rise to the situation in the South China Sea, Geng added.

"But on the South China Sea issue we have repeatedly said that the situation is at present developing well, in a positive direction, and is stable," he said.

China hopes countries outside the region - usually a reference to the United States - can respect the efforts of China and Southeast Asian nations to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, Geng said.

The United States already has the world's most powerful fighting force and spends far more on defence than any other country.

China unveils its defence budget for the year at this weekend's opening of the annual meeting of its largely rubber stamp parliament.

China last year set military spending at 954.35 billion yuan ($138.93 billion), likely understating its investment, according to diplomats.

The 7.6 percent increase was China's lowest in six years, however, and its first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit jumps.

The influential state-run Global Times tabloid on Tuesday called for a rise of at least 10 percent this year, to deal with the uncertainty brought by Trump.

"The U.S. is a military superpower," it said in an editorial. "But it still wants to expand its military, which foreshadows the unavoidability of further strategic turbulence internationally."

($1=6.8691 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Ben Blanchard

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