China defended its booming military spending on Monday, saying its vast investments in the armed forces have contributed to global peace and stability.
However, in a break with previous years, no figure for this year’s defence budget was presented at a news conference on the eve of the opening of the annual legislative session.
Spokeswoman Fu Ying said the figure would be released in the overall budget to be released on Tuesday.
“China’s defence policy, which has been held for a long period, is a peaceful and defensive one,” she added.
“The purpose for us to strengthen our national defence power is to protect ourselves and to safeguard the peace and security instead of threatening other countries.”
Approving the budget is among the key tasks of the session, which this year will see new leaders placed into top government positions after they were elevated at November’s Communist Party congress.
Party leader Xi Jinping will take over from Hu Jintao as president, as well as head of the government’s Central Military Commission, as part of China’s once-a decade power transition.
In addition, the session approves top Cabinet appointments such as the defence minister.
Chinese defence spending has grown substantially each year for more than two decades, and last year rose 11.2 percent to 670.2 (b) billion yuan (106.4 (b) billion US dollars).
Only the United States spends more on defence.
“China wishes to overcome the disputes and conflicts through peaceful dialogue and negotiation,” said Fu.
“However, one hand alone can’t clap. This wish can only become true when two sides hold the same willingness. If the opposite side chooses hardline measures to breach the consensus between the two sides, China has no choice but to act in the same way as reciprocation.”
This year’s legislative session comes amid a continuing standoff with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Ships and planes from both sides have repeatedly confronted each other in the area.
China’s feuds with Vietnam and the Philippines over territory in the South China Sea have also flared periodically in recent months, while Beijing has been unnerved by the US military’s renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific, including plans to station marines in northern Australia on training missions.
Outside concerns about China’s military build-up are also fed by doubts over the reliability of the defence budget figure, which is widely believed to exclude foreign military purchases and other items.
In its 2012 report on China’s military, the Pentagon estimated actual spending of 120-180 billion US dollars in 2011, well above China’s official figure that year of 91.5 billion US dollars.
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