China's Defense Budget to Rise 7 Percent

Residential buildings under construction in Chongqing south-west China. The government may look to deter speculators

Similarly, regarding the South China Sea, which has been a bone of contention between China and the United States, China continues to call and urge for a peaceful dialogue.

The fresh raise could be the country's slowest defence budget rise in more than a decade, and mark the second time that defence budget dip to single-digit increase since 2010.

The East Asian country has typically pursued a policy of double-digit increases in its budget since 2010, but reversed that a year ago when it increased its spending by 7.6%, according to state officials.

China's 2017 defense budget will expand by about 7 percent, a spokesperson for the annual session of the country's top legislature said Saturday.

The White House has proposed a 10 percent increase in military spending to $603 billion, even though the United States has wound down major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is already the world's pre-eminent military power.

China's military build-up has rattled nerves around the region, particularly because China has taken an increasingly assertive stance in its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas and over Taiwan, which China claims as its own. China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have claims in the region.

Ms Fu also fielded a wide-ranging slew of questions from Sino-US relations to China's global role to domestic concerns such as food safety and pollution.

There are other concerns for China's military, including how to deal with the 300,000 troops President Xi Jinping announced in 2015 would be cut, mainly by the end of 2017. "The strengthening of China's [military] capabilities help preserve peace and stability in the region, not the opposite".

"Now the trend over the disputes is very clear, China and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) have returned to the track of consultation and negotiations and the situation in the South China Sea is calming down", Fu said.

Future trends in the region "will depend on United States intentions vis-a-vis the region and United States activities [which] to a certain extent set the barometer for the situation here", Fu said. USA activities, to a certain extent, are a barometer for the situation there. Fu pointed out that the South China Sea has not been listed as a high risk area, as such where does the worry for navigational safety come from?

Last year, USA warships conducted several freedom of navigation operations to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit access in the waters and also to challenge its "excessive maritime claims" in the South China Sea. "In order to protect China's territories and overseas interests, China needs two carrier strike groups in the West Pacific Ocean and two in the Indian Ocean".

China's Defense Ministry has said it is monitoring the ongoing Vinson-led operations - the first in the waterway under the Trump administration.

It follows almost 20 years of double-digital budget increases as China sought to rapidly expand its military might.

"As to the future development [of the settlement of these disputes], I think we also need to take into account the intentions on the USA side", she said, calling the United States' actions in the South China Sea a "weather vane" for the region.

"Whether the militaries will pose a threat to each another, we'll need to look at their strategic intentions", she added.

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