China’s military budget increasing 10 percent for 2015, official says

504577619YF00001_Soldiers_M
ChinaFotoPress | Getty Images

The Chinese military budget for 2015 will be about 10 percent bigger than last year's, a senior Chinese official said on Wednesday, meaning that such spending is growing at a pace faster than the overall growth rate of the Chinese economy.

The estimate was given in Beijing by Fu Ying, a veteran diplomat who is the spokeswoman for the National People's Congress, China's legislature, whose annual meeting begins this week. Ms. Fu said at a news conference that the military budget's precise numbers would be announced Thursday, along with other budget outlays that will later be formally approved by the legislature.

A 10 percent increase would put the 2015 military budget around $145 billion, making China the world's second-largest military spender, though still far behind the United States, which spends more on its armed forces than the next eight countries combined.

China's "defense budget increases have always outpaced the growth in G.D.P.," said Richard A. Bitzinger​, a senior fellow at ​the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore​ who has studied China's military spending patterns.

"But this is the first time when the gap could be really, really big," Mr. Bitzinger said. "That is, if the economy only grows by, say, 6 percent, but the defense budget grows by 10 percent, that's a really sizable difference. It demonstrates that the Chinese leadership is committed to increasing defense spending, no matter what."

Military experts say China's actual military budget is almost certainly higher than the official number, but still far less than that of the United States.

Budget growth of 10 percent would be lower than in 2014, when the official military budget rose 12.2 percent, to almost $132 billion. In early 2014, IHS Jane's, a consulting and analysis company that covers the industry, estimated that China would spend $148 billion that year on its military.

China's military expansion is generally consistent with its economic growth and the size of its economy, which is the second largest in the world and is expected to soon surpass that of the United States. Nevertheless, China's increasingly powerful military and its modernization are alarming other Asian nations, many of which have come into diplomatic conflict with China in recent years over territorial disputes in regional seas.

Read MoreChina's top political event lures country's richest

Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines are among those most concerned, as is the United States, which is the pre-eminent military power in Asia. The United States has said that in general, it takes no sides in territorial disputes but wants to maintain stability and freedom of navigation in the region.

Xu Guangyu, a retired People's Liberation Army major general who is now a senior consultant at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association in Beijing, said by telephone that the estimated 10 percent increase was in line with China's economic growth and security needs. He said increases of a similar magnitude would continue for years to come.

"Per capita, China's military spending remains too low, only about $57,000 for each member of the military forces in 2014," he said. "That's far lower than Japan or the United States."

He added that China's relatively large increases in spending were likely to continue for another decade or more. "For some time into the future, the rises will continue at a level higher than rises in Western countries," he said. "Up until, I would estimate, average spending for each member of the military reaches levels similar to Japan's."

Phillip C. Saunders, an Asia military analyst at the National Defense University in Washington, said in an email exchange before the Wednesday announcement that, among other things, it was important to compare the growth in the military budget to the growth in total government expenditure to see whether the army was getting more support than other agencies. China is expected to release overall government budget figures during the congress this week.

On Wednesday, Ms. Fu, the legislative spokeswoman, said the 10 percent military budget increase "is on the same level as the growth rate of the budget for the central government and central-level government agencies. The overall level of national armaments is still lacking, and it will take time."

Recent state news reports suggest that modernization and production of advanced weaponry is one major area of emphasis and increased spending for China, Dr. Saunders said. He added that "the P.L.A. has increased its emphasis on joint training and realistic exercises, and I expect some of the budget increase will support a further expansion of training to improve the military's ability to fulfill" a Communist Party leadership edict "to be able to 'fight and win wars.'  "

More from The New York Times:

Poor state of India's subsidies
South Korea tightens rules against gifts to fight graft
Countries questioning Indonesia' push to execute drug offenders

In recent years, much of China's military modernization has been concentrated on its navy. Besides mapping out possible conflicts over territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, many senior military officers are still focused on potential war scenarios over Taiwan, the self-governing island that China considers part of its territory.

As part of a longstanding mandate, the United States government on occasion approves arms sales to Taiwan, to which China strongly objects. Some foreign military analysts say the Obama administration is likely to approve new sales soon.

At the news conference, Ms. Fu talked broadly about a range of policy issues and gave the military budget estimate after being asked by a foreign journalist. Ms. Fu was particularly interested in underscoring the Chinese leaders' commitment to battling corruption. Since taking power in late 2012, Xi Jinping, the president and party leader, has led a wide anticorruption campaign that has, among other things, resulted in investigations of some of his most powerful political enemies.

That campaign and other moves by Mr. Xi have allowed him to exert much greater control over the Chinese military than his predecessor, Hu Jintao, ever did, analysts and party insiders say. Powerful Chinese military leaders have been placed under investigation. On Monday, the military announced on its official website the names of 14 generals who are being investigatedor have been convicted of graft.

Among those under investigation is Maj. Gen. Guo Zhenggang, son of Guo Boxiong, the retired vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. Mr. Xi has already placed under investigation Xu Caihou, another retired vice chairman of the commission, and now there is speculation about whether Guo Boxiong is next.

Dr. Saunders said the increase in military spending could result in greater pay for officers as part of the effort to combat corruption in the military.