BEIJING (DPA) – China's military budget will grow by about 10 per cent in the coming year, the spokeswoman for the country's top legislature said Wednesday.
"Defence modernization is part of China's modernization drive, and that will require proper funding," Fu Ying, spokeswoman for the National People's Congress, said at a press conference ahead of the legislature's annual meeting in Beijing.
A 10-per-cent increase would be lower than last year's military budget increase of 12.2 per cent but would be the fifth year in a row of double-digit increases, bringing the total military budget to about 145 billion dollars.
The increase in military spending would be in line with the expected increase in overall government spending of around 10 per cent this year, Fu said, adding that a detailed budget would be released on Thursday.
The news comes despite China's economy growing last year by 7.4 per cent – the weakest growth in 24 years.
The official military budget also does not include spending on imports of and research and development on high-tech weapons.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged faster development of military equipment systems to build a stronger army, saying in a speech in December that advanced weaponry is "a crucial support for national security and rejuvenation."
A report from the Pentagon last year said China is undergoing an "unprecedented" modernization of its air force, and criticized "poor accounting transparency" in China's military.
The Chinese Defence Ministry said in a response in June that it was "resolutely opposed" to the Pentagon's claims.
Fu said Wednesday that this year's budget would be "more detailed, comprehensive and transparent."
China's military spending is also still less than a third of the US military budget, which is proposed at over 534 billion dollars this year.
The annual meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC) opens Thursday alongside a meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top political advisory body, which is already under way.
The congress, decried as a "rubber stamp" parliament by critics and attended by some 3,000 delegates to discuss political and economic policies over the course of 11 days, is showcased by the party as evidence of its development of "socialist democracy."
Economic reform and measures to combat environmental pollution and corruption are expected to be key topics during the congress.
Chinese premier Li Keqiang will give a government economic work report Thursday that will set the country's annual growth target.
China's new environmental protection law is expected to come into effect this year.
"When I was young every day was a 'blue-sky day' but now this has changed," Fu said. "The government's new environmental protection law is the toughest law we have ever had. It stipulates zero tolerance of pollution."
Fu also said at the press conference that the NPC Standing Committee's decision on election reform for Hong Kong in August 2014 "will not be changed" despite pressure from activists.
Tens of thousands of pro-democracy campaigners occupied key streets in Hong Kong for 79 days in the autumn to protest a plan drawn up by Beijing that would see candidates for the city's chief executive be pre-selected by a pro-Beijing committee before elections in 2017.
Hong Kong residents enjoy several freedoms not given to ordinary Chinese citizens under an agreement between Britain and China granting it relative autonomy until 2047.
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