China NPC: Government sets trillion yuan military budget

Written By: BBC/Hunja Macharia

China has announced a military budget of 1.11 trillion yuan ($175bn; £126bn) for the coming year, Mr Li also set a target of 6.5% growth for the economy.

The figure, an 8% increase on last year, was announced by Prime Minister Li Keqiang as the annual meeting of parliament got under way in Beijing.

The National People’s Congress (NPC) is also expected to remove the two-term presidential limit, enabling Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely.

The move, which was long expected but has been controversial even in China has helped cement Mr Xi’s status as the most powerful leader since Chairman Mao Zedong.

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Thousands of Chinese legislators at Monday’s meeting burst into applause when the plan to scrap the two-term limit was read out to the chamber. The vote on the proposal will take place on 11 March and is expected to be unanimously approved.

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The NPC is largely a rubber stamp parliament, endorsing decisions already made by the Communist Party.

Its delegates, about 3,000 of them representing all provinces and regions, are technically elected, but in practice, hand-picked by the Party.

The gathering takes place under tight security – known dissidents are routinely removed from the capital before it takes place.

The government has said it will focus on three main goals over the coming year: tackling China’s exposure to financial risk, reining in rampant pollution and continuing to combat poverty.

In his opening report to parliament, Mr Li announced the new military budget, saying the army must be “strong as stone” in the face of “profound changes in the national security environment”.

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The rise is seen as a good indication of China’s strategic ambitions, as it continues to modernise its army – the world’s largest – and develop its infrastructure in contested areas like the South China Sea and its Himalayan border regions.

While expected, the spending increase will further unnerve China’s regional rivals.

China is now the world’s second largest economy. After years of rapid growth, millions have been lifted out of poverty and there is a ballooning middle class.

There are also some 100 billionaires in China. Many of them are members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top advisory body, which is also meeting this week.

But a reliance on borrowing to fuel this growth has led to pressing political concerns about debt risk.

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As expected, Mr Li’s report said reining in this risk would be a key policy for the coming year, promising to “see that internal risk controls are tightened in financial institutions” and a “serious crackdown on activities that violate the law like illegal fundraising and financial fraud”.

This could indicate further action like that taken against insurance giant Anbang, which was last month taken over by insurance regulators.

Mr Li set the growth target – the amount by which the economy is expected to continue expanding – at 6.5%, slightly lower than the 6.9% growth achieved in 2017.

On the horizon, as China lays out it financial ambitions, is a potential trade war brewing with the US, as the Trump administration pursues its policy of shifting the global balance in trade.

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