China unveiled another double-digit rise in military expenditure on Tuesday, but for a third year in a row the defence budget will be exceeded by spending on domestic security, highlighting Beijing’s concern about internal threats.
Spending on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will rise 10.7 percent to 740.6 billion yuan ($119 billion), while the domestic security budget will go up at a slightly slower pace, by 8.7 percent, to 769.1 billion yuan, according to the budget released at the opening of parliament’s annual meeting.
The numbers underscore the ruling Communist Party’s vigilance not only about territorial disputes with Japan and Southeast Asia and the U.S. “pivot” back to the region, but also about popular unrest over corruption, pollution and abuse of power, despite robust economic growth and rising incomes.
The number of “mass incidents” of unrest recorded by the Chinese government grew from 8,700 in 1993 to about 90,000 in 2010, according to several government-backed studies. Some estimates are higher, and the government has not released official data for recent years.
“It shows the party is more concerned about the potential risks of destabilisation coming from inside the country than outside, which tells us the party is much less confident,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group.
“A confident government that is not afraid of its population doesn’t need to have a budget for domestic security that is over defence spending,” he added.
In his “state of the nation” address to the largely rubber-stamp legislature, Premier Wen Jiabao listed maintaining social harmony and stability as one of the government’s priorities for this year.
“We should improve the mechanism for assessing potential risks major policy decisions may pose for social stability ... The purpose of this work is to preserve law and order and promote social harmony and stability.”