Before People's Congress: China defends increase in military spending

Before the start of the annual session of the People's Congress, China's leadership has defended the expected sharp increase in military spending.

Before People's Congress: China defends increase in military spending

Before the start of the annual session of the People's Congress, China's leadership has defended the expected sharp increase in military spending. The defense budget will be presented on Sunday at the start of the plenary session of the parliament in Beijing, which will last until March 13th. The nearly 3,000 delegates will also approve a far-reaching reform of the government that only takes place every ten years. Head of state and party leader Xi Jinping (69), who had already combined all power at the party congress in October, is to be confirmed for an unprecedented third term as president.

Against the background of threats against democratic Taiwan, China's disputed territorial claims in the East and South China Seas and rivalry with the USA, the Merics China Institute in Berlin expects the military budget to increase by more than seven percent.

The spokesman for the meeting, Wang Chao, did not provide any figures on Saturday, but said: "Behind the growth in defense spending is not only the need to address complex security challenges, but also the need to fulfill the responsibilities of being a great power. " At the same time, the spokesman said: "China's military modernization is not a threat to other countries."

Military budget increase above growth rate

China's defense budget has always risen faster than total spending in recent years - by 7.1 percent in the previous year. The increase was also mostly higher than the growth rate of the economy. According to experts, however, the official military budget only reflects part of the true expenditure, since many expenses for the People's Liberation Army are also covered by other budgets.

The meeting of almost 3,000 hand-picked delegates in the Great Hall of the People will be opened by the current head of government, Li Keqiang, on Sunday with his final report. The 67-year-old prime minister, who is leaving after two terms in office, is likely to set a growth target of five percent or even slightly more for this year, observers expected. A similar figure of around 5.5 percent was aimed for last year.

Under the pressure of the zero-Covid policy with lockdowns, forced quarantines and mass tests, which was only abandoned in December, the second-largest economy only achieved three percent. It was the second-worst growth rate since 1976 and only slightly better than 2020's 2.2 percent at the start of the pandemic.

New government is formed - Xi Jinping remains

The focus of the week-long conference is the formation of the new government. Party leader Xi Jinping will continue to consolidate his power as close associates move into government offices. At the party conference in October, the 69-year-old defied previous age and term limits and anchored his permanent leadership role in the party constitution.

Former Shanghai party leader Li Qiang is to become the new prime minister. Xi Jinping's close follower had already moved up to number two at the party congress. As early as 2007, the new prime minister worked directly under Xi Jinping, when he was still the party leader of the important province of Zhejiang. The 63-year-old has had a long career, most of which has been spent on the affluent East Coast. He is said to have economic expertise and a friendly attitude towards private companies.

In Shanghai, Li Qiang campaigned for the interests of the local economy and at the same time solicited foreign investment. "He doesn't talk so much about ideology, but a little more about how things are done," says Nis Grünberg of the China Institute Merics. This makes Li Qiang a relatively good fit for the role of prime minister. Despite his closeness to Xi Jinping, he is not just a "yes man".

During the corona pandemic, Li Qiang in Shanghai initially implemented a less restrictive approach to the virus than in other regions of China. However, since the metropolis could not get an outbreak under control in spring 2022, the port city was put into a strict lockdown for two months. The sometimes chaotic conditions obviously didn't harm Li Qiang.

However, the question remains as to how much influence the new prime minister will have. This role has declined in importance over the past decade as Xi Jinping himself increasingly dominates government decisions.