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China Expected to Boost Military Spending - 2002-03-04

China is expected to announce a major increase in military spending Wednesday. Many experts say the official figures are probably only a fraction of what China actually spends on weapons and soldiers.

The leading Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong says China's finance minister will announce a 17.6 percent increase in China's military spending during this week's meeting of the National People's Congress.

The increase would boost China's official military spending to about $20 billion (U.S.). That compares with a proposed defense spending in the United States of $379 billion.

A military expert at Hong Kong's Chinese University, Ben Ostrov, said China's large military is technologically backward. He says China's generals have been working to modernize their force since they saw high-technology U.S. forces crush opponents in the Gulf War, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. "In recent years, the budget has been revived, so it is not as if suddenly it was revived for the first time. It has been increased before," he explained.

Hong Kong-based military expert Guo Jian said China's economic expansion means Beijing can afford to change from a huge standing army to a more agile, more capable - but more expensive - military. Mr. Guo said China has been buying destroyers (ships), aircraft and other advanced weapons from Russia in recent years.

Some analysts say the improvements will give China more power in its effort to reunite Taiwan with the mainland. Taiwan split politically from China amid civil war in 1949 and has been ruled separately since. Beijing regards the island as a renegade province that should be brought back under central government control, by force if necessary.

On Taiwan, Andrew Yang of the Chinese Council for Advanced Policy Studies, said Taipei views China's growing military strength with concern. "At the year 2010, the Chinese military will be entirely remodeled," he said. "Therefore we are looking at a timetable five or seven years ahead of us. At that time, I think China will be entirely different in terms of their military quality."

Many defense analysts say China's official spending figure of about $20 billion leaves out the billions that Beijing spends on imported weapons. They say the figure represents a third or a quarter of the total that China spends on modernizing its military.

Mr. Yang says Beijing understates its military spending to avoid alarming its neighbors, which could prompt them to boost military spending to counter China's growing power.