Hong Kong/Beijing: China said defence spending would increase at the quickest pace in three years, as president Xi Jinping pursues a “world-class" military capable of projecting force further from the country’s coasts.

The central government’s military outlays are expected to rise 8.1% to ¥1.11 trillion ($175 billion) this year, the Chinese ministry of finance said Monday in its annual report to the national legislative session in Beijing. Last year’s budget called for an increase of 7.1%, the slowest pace since at least 1991.

The spending figure is one of the few pieces of official data available as the US and Asian neighbours seek to gauge the pace and intentions of China’s military development. While the figure equals about one-quarter of US outlays, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that China’s actual spending is about 55% more than officially stated.

Besides approving the defence budget, NPC deputies are also expected to appoint Xi to a second term as president and repeal constitutional term limits requiring him to step down in 2023. The amendment may give Xi more time to advance a pledge in October to complete China’s restoration as a global power by the mid-century mark.

“China is committed to a path of peaceful development and China pursues a defence policy that is defensive in nature," vice foreign minister Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the National People’s Congress, said at a briefing Sunday. “China’s development will not pose a threat to other countries."

The Trump administration has expressed concern about China’s growing military and economic influence, calling the country a “revisionist power" intent on disrupting the current global order. A US defence strategy document published in January said China “seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future." Bloomberg

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