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China lowers defence budget growth to 6.6%

China has announced a 2020 defence budget of CNY1.268 trillion (USD178 billion). The government said the figure was a year-on-year increase of 6.6%, the lowest rate of growth recorded for many years.

The government said the slowdown was linked directly to Covid-19 and the pandemic’s devastating impact on the domestic and global economies.

The new figure also continues a downward trend. “The defence budget [in 2020] continues to see single-digit growth for a fifth consecutive year,” reported state news agency Xinhua. “It is the lowest growth rate in recent years.”

The defence budget was announced at the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), which started on 22 May.

At this event, the government, for the first time, refrained from setting an annual economic target for China. The omission, it said, was a response to Covid-19 and economic uncertainty. In the first quarter of 2020, China’s economy contracted by 6.8%.

Despite the economic constraints, China’s Premier Li Keqiang told NPC legislators that the Chinese government was committed to investing in military capability.

“We will deepen reforms in national defence and the military, increase our logistic and equipment support capacity, and promote innovative development of defence-related science and technology,” he said.

Li added, “We will improve the system of national defence mobilisation and ensure that the unity between the military and the government and between the military and the people remains rock solid.”

The growth in the budget was also regarded as positive by state-owned media. The state-owned Global Times newspaper, citing unidentified military analysts, said the defence allocation “means that China can provide sufficient funding for military development despite the economic impact brought by the Covid-19 outbreak”.

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