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China's Defense Budget to Increase 17.8% in 2007


China's military spending will grow by 17.8 percent to nearly $45 billion this year. China has steadily increased its defense budget by double digits over the past few years, raising concerns about its military intentions. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

China will increase its military spending by 17.8 percent this year, to improve salaries and living conditions for military personnel and to upgrade equipment and technology.

Jiang Enzhu, the Deputy Secretary General and spokesman for the National People's Congress, announced the jump in military spending Sunday, one day before the annual legislative session opens in Beijing.

He rejected recent expressions of concern by the United States and other countries about China's intentions.

"China's national defense is aimed at protecting national security and unification and to ensure the country makes steady progress toward building a moderately prosperous society. China has neither the wherewithal nor the intention to enter into an arms race with any country and China does not and will not pose a threat to any country."

Although China has not fought a military conflict since the 1980's, Beijing has increased defense spending by more than ten percent annually in recent years.

China says its defense budget went up 14.7 percent in 2006 to more than $36 billion. Beijing argues its military expenditure is small compared to that of developed nations such as the U.S. and Japan.

But some experts say Beijing is concealing real military spending, which could be three times the official figures.

The latest defense boost follows China's successful test in January of an anti-satellite weapon, which provoked worries about Beijing's military capabilities and intentions.

Washington is also wary about tensions building up in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian has been moving toward a more independent identity from China, sparking condemnations from Beijing.

China claims self-ruling and democratic Taiwan as a province that must one day reunite with the mainland, by military force if necessary. The U.S. has vowed to defend Taiwan if Beijing attacks.

China's annual national legislative session begins Monday in Beijing. The NPC passed a law in 2005 authorizing the use of military force against Taiwan if it declares independence.

This year the NPC will announce China's economic growth target for 2007, and pass laws on private property and corporate taxes.