Military spending in China will rise by the lowest amount in six years amid slowing economic growth and a 300,000 cut in troop numbers.
Fu Ying, the spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress, said the country will boost military spending by about 7% to 8% this year.
She told reporters that China needs to consider its defence needs, economic development and the country’s fiscal position in drafting the military budget.
The People’s Liberation Army is being trimmed to 2 million troops from 2.3 million, although it will still be the world’s largest standing military.
It remains a major priority for China’s leaders who have pushed an increasingly aggressive campaign to assert territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea, raising tensions with its neighbours.
This year’s budget comes as spending at all levels of government is being curbed because of a drop in the economic growth rate, which fell to a 25-year low of 7.3% in 2015 and is expected to decline further this year.
For most years since 2000, China posted double-digit increases in military spending, and this will be only the third time in that period with a single-digit increase, including 2010’s increase of 7.5%.
China provides no breakdown of its defence budget and Pentagon and global arms bodies estimate actual military spending may be anywhere from 40 to 50% more.
That is because the official budget does not include the costs of high-tech weapons imports, research and development, and other programmes.
China says its military is strictly for defensive purposes, but takes a broad view of what constitutes threats to its core interests – including protecting maritime territory that is in dispute with neighbouring countries.
The aggressive programme of building islands on reefs and atolls in the South China Sea as part of its campaign to claim virtually the entire region has unnerved China’s neighbours.
Meanwhile, China continues a low-level campaign of confronting Japanese ships and aircraft near a set of contested East China Sea islands.