BEIJING, March 6 (Reuters) - Chinese state media on Tuesday defended the country’s 8.1 percent budgeted increase in military spending for this year as proportionate and low, saying Beijing has not been goaded into an arms race with the United States.
China on Monday unveiled its largest defence spending increase in three years, fuelling an ambitious military modernisation programme and making its neighbours, particularly Japan and self-ruled Taiwan, nervous.
The defence spending figure is closely watched worldwide for clues to China’s strategic intentions as it develops new military capabilities, including stealth fighters, aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles.
China insists its military spending is transparent and that it poses a threat to nobody, simply needing to update old equipment and defend its legitimate interests, even as it is increasingly assertive over disputes in the East and South China Seas and on self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims.
In an editorial, the official China Daily said the figures had prompted “finger-pointing from the usual suspects”.
“China’s defence budget is neither the largest in size - it accounts for just one-fourth of the military spending of the United States - nor does it have the fastest growth rate,” the English-language newspaper said.
“And if calculated in per capita terms, China’s military lags well behind other major countries.”
In the East and South China Seas, China is simply trying to stand up for itself, the paper added.
“The country has seen its maritime interests being increasingly infringed upon in recent years, and thus seeking a stronger military is natural for it to safeguard its interests and counter any threat that may materialise from the aggressive posturing of others upset by its rise.”
China has seen the United States as its biggest potential security threat, alarming Beijing with freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea the United States calling China a strategic competitor.
U.S. President Donald Trump has proposed the largest military budget since 2011, focused on beefing up the United States’ nuclear defences and countering the growing strength of China and Russia.
Official Chinese defence spending is about one-quarter that of the United States, though many foreign analysts and diplomats say China under-reports the figure.
Widely-read Chinese tabloid the Global Times said if China really wanted to expand militarily, the defence budget should really be rising 20 to 30 percent.
“China has obviously not fallen into the mind-set of engaging in an arms race with the U.S. Otherwise it could totally realise double-digit increases in its defence expenditure,” the paper said in its editorial.
U.S. provocations in the South China Sea, tension in the Taiwan Strait and the United States, Japan, Australia and India forming alliances demand a rise in spending, it added.
“But Beijing has stuck to its own template and was not disturbed by external factors.” (Reporting by Ben Blanchard)