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China to Boost Military Spending - 2004-03-06

Amid rising tensions over Taiwan, China has announced it is boosting its military spending by more than 11 percent. Officials at the ongoing annual session of the National People's Congress reaffirmed China's resolve to retain its claim over the island.

China has the world's largest military force, and foreign analysts say it probably already spends much more than the $22 billion it admits to on defense each year.

On Saturday, the second day of the annual session of the National People's Congress, Finance Minister Jin Renqing told delegates defense spending would jump by 11.6 percent this year.

The announcement was seen as an indirect warning to the government of Taiwan, which is due to hold elections and a referendum on defense measures in two weeks. Beijing fears the poll may be a move by Taiwan toward formal independence, an action that Chinese officials warn could trigger a war.

Speaking to reporters at the Congress Saturday, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said China would continue to work for the democratic island's eventual unification with the Communist mainland. He warned against anyone interfering in what China considers an internal affair.

Mr. Li says there is only one China, and Taiwan is a part of it.

The Chinese official did not mention the United States by name, but said Taiwan remains the biggest issue in Sino-U.S. relations. Beijing has often criticized Washington for selling weapons to Taiwan.

The United States, which maintains strong economic ties with the island, passed a law more than two decades ago that obligates it to defend Taiwan if China attacks.

Saturday's news briefing touched on a wide range of foreign policy issues, and Mr. Li was blunt and to the point in most cases.

However, he brushed aside a question on whether China assisted Pakistan in its nuclear weapons program in the 1970s.