Update 2: Adds defense budget increase, changes slug, headline, lede, minor edits
Beijing, Mar 5 (efe-epa).- China will increase its 2021 defense budget by 6.8 percent, according to the government’s preliminary report presented at the National People’s Congress (NPC), which began Friday.
The defense spending of the Asian power this year is expected to total 1.35 trillion yuan ($208.5 billion), a figure that will be reviewed during the annual plenary session of the NPC, which will last until next Thursday.
The data is higher than last year (6.6 percent), when the coronavirus pandemic forced the Chinese authorities to contain their expenses.
The goal announced at the opening of the plenary session is that, by 2035, the Chinese armed forces will have achieved complete modernization.
According to a Beijing-based military expert quoted by the state Global Times newspaper, “China still uses many outdated weapons and equipment that are in need of being replaced by new ones.”
Added to this is “the development of advanced weaponry, like the construction of the new aircraft carrier and mass-production of the J-20 stealth fighter jet, also requires investment,” the source added.
At a press conference held Thursday in Beijing as a preamble to the opening of the annual session, its spokesperson Zhang Yesui said that “maintaining a proper and steady increase in defense spending is needed to safeguard our sovereignty and development interests.”
Beijing also established a 2021 growth target for “above 6 percent,” according to the report.
The document said the objective is set taking into account “the recovery of economic activity” – GDP grew by 2.3 percent in 2020 – and also sets an inflation growth target of about 3 percent.
Last year it skipped setting a goal due to the pandemic.
“This growth target will empower all of us to devote full energy to promoting reform, innovation and high-quality development,” the report said.
In addition, China is setting the goal of creating more than 11 million urban jobs, the document added.
The country is also set to achieve a basic balance in the balance of payments and promises not to make major changes in its macroeconomic policy this year.
Likewise, the report said the growth of the item for Research and Development will be an annual 7 percent.
The report sees a decrease of about 3 percent in energy consumption per unit of GDP and that clean heating will account for 60 percent of all heating in northern China, one of the most polluting areas in the country.
The government will also continue to implement “in its entirety” the so-called “One Country, Two Systems” principle that governs relations with the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong.
China “will resolutely guard against and deter external forces’ interference” in Hong Kong, the Chinese premier said during the congress.
“We will improve the relevant systems and mechanisms of the two special administrative regions for enforcing the [Chinese] constitution and the Basic Law (of Hong Kong); and implement the legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for the two regions to safeguard national security,” Li Keqiang said.
On Thursday, China announced that the NPC would discuss a proposal to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system, which seems to be aimed at reducing the political leverage of the opposition.