- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2007

BEIJING — Traditional fireworks ending China’s lunar New Year celebrations were overshadowed yesterday by a display of political pyrotechnics that included a big boost in military spending, tough talk on Taiwan and a conclusion to two days of delicate diplomatic talks with the United States.

The biggest bombshell was a 17.8 percent increase in the defense budget, announced at a press conference ahead of the opening today of the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC).

“China must increase the military budget for protecting national security and promoting the reunification of the motherland,” said NPC spokesman Jiang Enzhu. “This increase is compensatory in nature in order to make up for the weak national defense foundation of our country.”

The remark on reunification clearly was aimed at Taiwan, the island republic of 23 million people that the mainland government considers a breakaway province.

Mr. Jiang said that “deterring Taiwan’s independence and maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait” remained a “pressing task” for the NPC because of a “continuing push for de jure independence” in Taipei.

Arguing that secession efforts “will not enjoy popular support” in Taiwan, Mr. Jiang said, “If you want to push for independence for Taiwan, you will not have success at the end of the day.”

John D. Negroponte, the newly confirmed U.S. deputy secretary of state, wound up two days of talks in Beijing made more delicate by reports that the United States plans to sell Taiwan 450 air and ground missiles to counter China’s missile buildup.

“Any weapons sales we might make to Taiwan would be for strictly defensive purposes and consistent with the one-China policy,” which considers Taiwan and the mainland as one country, Mr. Negroponte said after his talks.

On the jump in the defense budget, after several years of double-digit increases, Mr. Negroponte expressed concern that much of China’s military spending is hidden from view.

“We think it’s important in our dialogue that we understand what China’s plans and intentions are,” Mr. Negroponte said.

“We should continue, and perhaps intensify, dialogue so that we have a bit better understanding of exactly what it is the government of China has in mind with respect with its military modernization, what doctrines underlie this and what their intentions are.”

Since Hu Jintao became the country’s supreme leader in November 2002, China’s defense budget has increased by 9.6 percent in 2003, 11.6 percent in 2004, 12.6 percent in 2005 and 14.7 percent last year.

The Pentagon and defense analysts think China’s actual military spending may be three or four times higher than the budget figures, which do not include weapons procurements and key items such as research and development.

That would include the construction of five new nuclear-missile submarines first reported in The Washington Times last week.

The NPC spokesman said most of the increase in the defense budget will be used to boost wages and living allowances for the armed forces and to upgrade armaments that “enhance the military’s ability to conduct defensive operations.”

He characterized expenditures as “quite modest” compared with the military budgets of Britain, France, Japan and especially the United States.


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