World

China to boost defense spending 8% in 2018

BEIJING — China’s defense budget will rise 8.1 percent to $173 billion this year as the country prepares to launch its second aircraft carrier, integrate stealth fighters into its air force, and field an array of advanced missiles able to attack air and sea targets at vast distances.

The figure released in a report Monday to the ceremonial National People’s Congress is an increase in the growth rate from last year, when finance ministry officials said the budget was rising 7 percent to $151 billion.

Years of double-digit percentage growth have given China the world’s second-largest defense budget after the United States, which is in a class of its own with a proposed budget of $716 billion for next year.

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‘‘We will stick to the Chinese path in strengthening our armed forces, advance all aspects of military training and war preparedness,’’ Premier Li Keqiang said as he read a report to nearly 3,000 delegates at the Great Hall of the People.

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The armed forces will ‘‘firmly and resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests,’’ Li said.

China has the world’s largest military by number of personnel, but Li said the country had ‘‘basically completed’’ the target of reducing the size of the armed forces by 300,000 troops. That would leave the People’s Liberation Army’s strength at around 2 million troops.

But China’s defense spending as a share of GDP and the budget remains lower than that of other major nations, Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the legislature, said Sunday.

This year’s defense budget comes to about 1.3 percent of last year’s GDP of $12.4 trillion.

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Analysts don’t consider China’s publicly announced defense spending to be entirely accurate since defense equipment projects account for a significant amount of ‘‘off book’’ expenditures.

Noting that this year’s increase was roughly the same as last year’s when adjusted for inflation, Shanghai military expert Ni Lexiong said China was seeking to avoid a full-on arms race based on quantity of weapons, choosing instead to invest in high-tech systems and training.

Rivals such as the United States, Japan, and India should be less anxious at the moderate rate of budget growth, although they ‘‘won’t feel happy’’ to see rapid enhancements in China’s air, naval, missile and antisatellite capabilities, said Ni, a professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

China’s defense budget is so large now that double-digit annual percentage increases are no longer necessary, said military commentator Song Zhongping.

New funds are going mainly to raise living standards for service members, increase training, and prepare for potential crises on the Korean Peninsula, the border with India or in the South China Sea or Taiwan Strait, Song said.

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Much of China’s energies have been focused on what is known as antiaccess/area denial, which seek to push the US Navy and other forces far from China’s shores.

China’s navy has been training rigorously on the Liaoning aircraft carrier, which was bought from Ukraine and heavily refurbished. In April, it launched a carrier built entirely on its own based on the Ukrainian model.

It will join the improved Type 093B Shang class nuclear-powered attack submarine equipped with antiship missiles — considered only slightly inferior to the US Navy’s mainstay Los Angeles class boats — and the Type 055 guided-missile destroyers at the forefront of China’s naval technology.

Such vessels stand to alter the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, where the US Navy has long been dominant and regional rivals such as Japan and India are increasing their presence. Most navy ships already have antiship cruise missiles with longer ranges than those of their US counterparts.

China’s navy is also relying on numerical superiority to boost its influence.

All three of China’s sea forces — the navy, coast guard, and maritime militia — are the largest of their types by number of ships, allowing them to ‘‘maintain presence and influence in vital seas,’’ according to Andrew S. Erickson of the US Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute.

All three fleets are growing ‘‘leaner and meaner’’ due to a greater emphasis on technical sophistication, Erickson wrote, adding that the United States also anticipates facing a Chinese submarine fleet twice its number, though less technologically advanced.