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China withheld release of its annual military-spending target during an annual news conference, breaking with a practice that provided a key glimpse into the world’s second-largest defence budget.
National People’s Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui sidestepped a question about the figure at a briefing Sunday ahead of the annual legislative session in Beijing, saying defence spending had increased to make up for past shortcomings. The figure could be released as soon as Monday, when the legislature is expected to receive a Ministry of Finance report at the start of its session.
Last year, China’s military budget rose 7.1 percent to 1.044 trillion yuan ($160 billion), the slowest pace since at least 1991. While that’s about one-quarter of US outlays, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that China’s actual spending is about 55 percent more than the officially stated figures.
The omission highlights the general lack of official data about China’s military, as defence officials in the U.S. and Asia seek more information about Beijing’s strategic intentions. Calls for more transparency are likely to intensify as President Xi Jinping seeks to build a “world-class” military capable of projecting force further from China’s borders.
China’s “lack of transparency about its growing military capabilities and strategic decision-making continue to cause concern among countries in the region,” the Pentagon wrote in its report on the country’s military last year. Unlike China, the U.S. provides a breakdown of spending between the army, navy, air force and other units.
Besides approving the defence budget, NPC deputies are also expected to appoint Xi to a second term as president and repeal constitutional term limits requiring him to step down in 2023. The amendment may give Xi more time to advance a pledge in October to complete China’s restoration as a global power by the mid-century mark.