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In the run-up to the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China has announced its intention to increase military spending by approximately 7% in 2017. This marks the second year in which the increase in defence expenditure has fallen below 10%. Precise figures are expected to be revealed by Premier Li Keqiang in his address to the NPC on 5 March.

The Chinese government’s own figures show this equates to about 1.3% of projected GDP in 2017. However, arguments persist among western observers and analysts that the true figures – both in absolute and proportional terms – could be far higher. Analysis from the Stockholm Peace Research Institute shows China in second place in terms of overall defence expenditure, lagging only behind the US (with Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United Kingdom in third, fourth and fifth places respectively).

The inexorable increase in Chinese military power – particularly in naval power projection – is a matter of increasing concern for nations in Southeast Asia as well as global powers with interests in the region. Some see recent clashes and standoffs between Chinese and Philippine, Vietnamese and US vessels as indications of China’s increasing willingness to flex its muscles in support of its territorial claims in the Paracels and Spratly islands.

Tim Mahon

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