CHINA has today unveiled its largest rise in defence spending in three years as it bids to dominate the world with a vast superpower military.
The 2018 defence budget will be 1.11trillion yuan (£127billion), according to a bombshell report issued at the opening of China’s annual meeting of parliament.
The defence spending figure is closely watched around the world for clues about China’s strategic intentions as it develops new military capabilities, including stealth fighters, aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles.
China has also been developing a whole next-generation battery of weapons including hypersonic missiles and electromagnetic railguns.
Military bosses are bent on transforming the armed forces into the world’s most powerful and have set a target of 8.1 per cent growth.
Sam Roggeveen, a visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre of the Australian National University in Canberra, said: “The pace and scale of this build-up is really dramatic.
“It is extremely alarming for Australia and many other countries in the region.”
In July China sent a clear message to the world when it staged an awesome display of might in the biggest military parade ever to mark the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army.
The military build-up is certainly rattling the nerves of its neighbours, particularly because of its increasingly assertive stance in territorial disputes in the Himalayan border regions and Taiwan.
But it is South China Sea where war may well break out – potentially sucking in the US Navy and air-force.
Mr Roggeveen said: “There is every indication that China wants to expand what it will call defence capabilities in the South China Sea.
“I expect eventually we will see warships and aircraft there regularly, if not based there permanently.”
Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei argue they also own parts of the sea that are contested.
The region contains strategic sea lanes and has rich fishing grounds along with trillions of pounds worth of oil and gas deposits.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has previously pledged not to “militarise” the disputed region.
But US military officials claim “hundreds” of surface-to-air missiles, airbases and naval ports have been built on seven artificial islands in the disputed area by Beijing.
Premier Li Keqiang told the opening session in an address, China will “advance all aspects of military training and war preparedness, and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests”.
But diplomats say China’s defence numbers probably underestimate true military spending for the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest armed forces, which are in the midst of an impressive modernisation programme overseen by Xi.