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China to increase defence budget by 7%

China has announced plans to increase its defence budget by about 7% this year.

Total defence spending will account for about 1.3% of projected gross domestic product in 2017, government spokeswoman Fu Ying said.

The precise figure will be provided by premier Li Keqiang in an address to the National People's Congress on Sunday morning.

Ms Fu reiterated China's contention that its military is purely for defence purposes and constitutes a force for stability in Asia.

"We advocate dialogue for peaceful resolutions, while at the same time we need to possess the ability to defend our sovereignty and interests," she said.

"The strengthening of Chinese capabilities benefits the preservation of peace and security in this region, and not the opposite."

Depending on the final figure, this year's budget could mark the third consecutive year of declines in defence spending growth rates. The budget grew by 7.6% last year and 10.1% in 2015.

The increase of about 67 billion yuan (£8 billion) would push the total defence budget past the 1 trillion yuan mark for the first time.

China's defence budget has for years been the world's second largest, although it still lags far behind the US.

President Donald Trump has asked for a 10% increase in US defence spending this year, adding 54 million US dollars (£44 million) to the budget that topped 600 billion US dollars (£490 billion) last year.

China points out that as a developing country with a population of 1.37 billion, its defence spending per capita is a fraction of those of other nations.

Ms Fu also said the percentage of GDP China spends on defence is below the 2% the US calls on Nato allies to spend.

"The gap in capabilities with the US is enormous, but China's military development and construction will continue in keeping with our need to defend our national sovereignty and security," she said.

While China insists its military is purely for domestic purposes, it has been spending heavily on technologies allowing it to project power far from shore, including aircraft carriers, long-range bombers and its first overseas military base located in the East African nation of Djibouti.

Beijing has also come under criticism from the US and others for militarising man-made islands in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety.

Ms Fu turned those accusations back on the US, saying the strategically vital waterway through which trillions of pounds in trade passes each year is basically calm.

"As to how the situation develops in future, that depends on US intentions. American actions in the South China Sea have a definite significance in terms of which way the winds blow," she said.

AP

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