BEIJING — China in recent years has responded to calls for greater military transparency by releasing its defense budget.
Not this year, it seems.
The defense and finance ministries did not immediately respond to questions about why the government failed to provide a figure for its annual military spending at the opening of its rubber-stamp parliament’s annual session on Sunday.
On Saturday, National People’s Congress spokeswoman Fu Ying told reporters the budget would increase around 7 percent in 2017 over last year.
The U.S. and others have routinely asked China to be more forthcoming about the goals of its ambitious military modernization program, under which the budget has grown by double digit percentages for most of the past two decades. Other observers say actual military spending could be considerably higher because China doesn’t include certain items such as the purchase of armaments from overseas.
Among other issues, China’s “lack of transparency about its growing military capabilities and strategic decision making continue to raise tensions and have caused countries in the region to enhance their ties to the United States,” the U.S. Department of Defense said in its 2016 report to Congress on the Chinese military.
China has never provided a breakdown on how the money is spent, although it claims most goes to improving living conditions for the troops.
Chinese spokesmen have at times likened the transparency calls to people demanding to peer through neighbor’s windows and stroll through their house. China says other countries have nothing to worry about and that its military is purely for defensive purposes.
“The strengthening of Chinese capabilities benefits the preservation of peace and security in this region, and not the opposite,” the spokeswoman, Fu, told reporters on Saturday.
Depending on the exact figure, this year’s budget could mark the third consecutive year of declines in defense spending growth rates, and the lowest rate of growth since 2010. China has the world’s second largest defense budget, although that is still only about one-quarter of what the U.S. spends.
Military analyst Ni Lexiong at Shanghai’s University of Politics and Law said focusing on the exact budget figure ignored China’s goodwill in avoiding conflicts.
“I have no idea why the exact figure for military spending hasn’t been released in this year’s budget report,” Ni said. “The announcement of 7 percent growth is of significance and it shows China’s sincerity of peace to the world.” /AP