BEIJING — China said Friday that its military spending will grow by 7 to 8 percent in 2016, the smallest increase in six years and a lower figure than many experts had expected, reflecting a slowing economy and a cut in troop numbers.
Although experts say actual spending is significantly higher than the official budget, China’s military spending is still dwarfed by that of the United States, both in monetary terms and as a proportion of the overall economy.
Nevertheless, China’s growing military muscle and its robust assertion of its territorial claims in the South China Sea have sparked concerns throughout Asia, helping propel jumps in defense spending in countries including India, Japan and Vietnam.
Fu Ying, spokeswoman for China’s parliament, said the increase reflected the country’s national defense needs as well as the state of its economy and fiscal revenue.
The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid, had argued this week for double-digit growth in military spending. It also called for China to deploy more weaponry to the South China Sea in response to what it said was Washington’s growing military presence there.
Ni Lexiong, a professor of political science and military expert at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said he had expected an increase of 12 to 15 percent in response to rising regional tensions.
“Obviously it shows that China wants to demonstrate to the West, including the U.S. and the neighboring countries that it has disputes with, that China sincerely wants to solve the problems through peaceful means,” he said. “But the second reason is that China’s economy is bad indeed.”