China will increase its defense budget for 2016 by 7 percent to 8 percent over the previous year’s allocation, a spokeswoman for the Chinese parliament reportedly told journalists Friday. The increase, in percentage terms, would be the smallest rise in China’s military budget allocation in six years.
Spokeswoman Fu Ying said the actual figure would be officially announced at the annual session of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, Saturday, Reuters reported. She added that the country had to consider its defense needs, economic development and fiscal position when deciding the defense budget, according to the Associated Press.
Earlier in the week, a South China Morning Post report said the budget increase could be as high as 20 percent, which would have been the biggest hike since 2007. However, state-run Global Times newspaper claimed that the SCMP figure was too high.
Analysts had attributed a potential sharp increase to two factors. One was the trimming of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which is scheduled to reduce 300,000 troops by the end of 2017. Part of the budget would go toward retirement pay and other types of compensation, according to the Global Times. Even after the reduction, though, the PLA would remain the world’s largest army with about 2 million troops.
The other factor would be China’s involvement in increasingly tense military situations in the South China Sea, where the country has been reclaiming islands despite objections by its neighbors, such as Japan and the Philippines. In January, a United States navy missile destroyer, USS Curtis Wilbur, sailed within 12 nautical miles of the China-controlled Triton islands in the Paracel island chain of the South China Sea. The move led to calls within China for additional military preparedness.
Last year, Asia’s biggest economy increased its defense budget by 10.1 percent, the slowest increase in the previous five years, to $135.27 billion. In comparison, the United States — the only country with a defense budget larger than China's — allocated over $500 billion for military spending in 2015.