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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008, 16:05 GMT
Q&A: China's military budget
China has announced another huge increase in its military budget, and the US and other nations have expressed concern over what they see as a continuing military build-up.

How much is China spending on defence?

Chinese soldiers in Guangzhou, file image
The People's Liberation Army is the largest in the world
The Beijing government has announced a 17.6% rise in its defence budget, meaning it will spend about 417.8bn yuan ($59bn; 30bn) over the next year.

This increase was not unexpected. Between 2003 and 2007, defence spending increased by an average of 15.8% a year.

Officials say the rises were necessary to make up ground on other nations, because between 1979 and 1989 military spending declined by an average of 5.8% a year.

"These increases were of a compensatory nature to make up for the weak defence foundation," said Jiang Enzhu, a spokesman for China's legislature, the National People's Congress.

But other nations and international organisations fear that China spends far more than it admits.

In a report released just before Beijing announced its budget, the US Defense Department estimated China's military spending in 2007 at between $97bn and $139bn - more than double the figure given by Beijing.

How does China compare with other countries?

The US spends far more on defence than any other nation.

Not including the cost of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, US President George W Bush recently asked for a budget of $515bn for the next fiscal year.

It's impossible for neighbouring countries and others in the world to understand 20 straight years of double-digit increases
Nobutaka Machimura
Japanese government spokesman

According to recent figures, the US spends more than 4% of its GDP on defence. China admits to spending just 1.4%.

In cash terms, the UK government admits to being the next biggest spender on defence, setting aside $64.7bn for the next year. This accounts for 2.5% of the GDP.

Beijing's official figures put its spending about on a par with France - although if the Pentagon's figures are correct, China has the second-biggest defence budget in the world.

What will China spend the money on?

Mr Jiang says the huge budget is needed to safeguard "independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity".

Officials say military personnel need better salaries, better training and higher-quality meals.

They also claim there will be more spending on fuel after recent hikes in oil prices.

billboard promoting China's People's Liberation Army on display in Beijing, Tuesday, March 4, 2008
China is determined to be a powerful international player
Technological hardware is also needed to enable China to conduct military operations under what officials term "IT-based conditions".

The BBC's China analyst, Shirong Chen, says the country is developing its own costly GPS technology - called the Big Dipper - which will involve sending 35 satellites into orbit.

And he says the government is faced with a spiralling pensions bill, with the number of retired soldiers rising each year.

What do other nations think about China's expenditure?

The US is not happy. During the past few years, Washington has repeatedly accused China of spending as much as three times its officially-declared budget.

The BBC's world affairs correspondent, Nick Childs, says the US is determined to maintain its position as a major Pacific power, while Beijing seems equally determined to assert what it sees as its rightful place on the world stage.

He says both sides know that China has the greatest potential of any country to challenge US military power in the long term.

It is a fluid and edgy regional strategic dynamic that also sucks in the other big Asian powers - like Russia, Japan and India, our correspondent adds.

These countries, too, are wary of China's military rise.

Japanese government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura said of China's latest spending announcement: "It's impossible for neighbouring countries and others in the world to understand 20 straight years of double-digit increases".

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