China announces 8.1% defence budget increase

China urged to get behind scrapping term limits for president Xi Jinping

The annual session of China's parliament commenced yesterday, setting the stage for the ratification of controversial measures to remove two term limits for 64-year-old Xi and inclusion of his thought into the Constitution.

According to Premier Li Keqiang, the additional funding will "advance all aspects of military training and war preparedness, and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests".

China also seeks to deflect concerns about the growth of military spending by insisting that much of the new funding is necessary to "make up for the low military spending in the past" and is meant to "improve the welfare of servicemen and women", as a spokesman for the National People's Congress put it on Sunday.

Li set China's real GDP growth target for 2018 at "around 6.5%", unchanged from 2017 despite that the Chinese economy grew a surprising 6.9% a year ago.

Chinese parliamentarians yesterday resoundingly endorsed leaders' justification for removing term limits for the state presidency, which will allow Mr Xi Jinping to stay on as president indefinitely.

Zhong Haiyan, an NPC deputy and head of Jingning She Autonomous County in Zhejiang province, said that she agrees with the central government's proposal on the rural revitalization strategy, and hopes the authorities can move more towards the regions inhabited with ethnic minority groups during the implementation process.

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Diplomats say China's defense numbers probably underestimate true military spending for the People's Liberation Army, the world's largest armed forces, which are in the midst of an impressive modernisation program overseen by Xi.

"Resolutely safeguard General Secretary Xi Jinping's core status and the authority of the party's central committee and its centralized and unified leadership", Li said in a speech to almost 3,000 delegates to the ceremonial legislature in the Great Hall of the People.

U.S. President Donald Trump has proposed the largest military budget since 2011, focused on beefing up the United States' nuclear defenses and countering the growing strength of China and Russian Federation.

It compares with a seven percent increase last year and 7.6 percent in 2016, which marked the first time in six years that spending growth had not risen into double figures.

The draft suggests Xi Jinping thought be juxtaposed with Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, and the Theory of Three Represents as a new guiding theory in the preamble of the Constitution, Xinhua said. After listening to the suggestions, Mr Xi said he was glad to talk with members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee and that relevant departments must attach great importance to their suggestions. Remaining in power beyond 2023 gives him a chance to push through his vision of a rejuvenated China with global clout, a prosperous society and a powerful military.

Legislators also are due to endorse the appointment of economic and other officials picked by the party.

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But a year ago numerous same commentators claimed that the new rate of "around 6.5% would see a slowing in activity, because it was down from the 6.7% growth rate seen in 2016".

U.S. laws state that presidents are only allowed to serve for two terms.

Chinese leaders in the past have vowed not to ape the western political systems.

"In the face of both the opportunities and challenges of economic globalization, the right thing to do is to seize every opportunity, jointly meet challenges and chart the right course for economic globalization", Xi said in Davos a year ago.

Chinese investments overseas in technology and banking are under closer scrutiny, while foreign companies and governments complain that Beijing hampers access to its markets in violation of its free-trade commitments.

"But there is opposition within the regime from people who think that this is outrageous, that he is going too far, that he has launched a coup against the party".

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