Sat Mar 4, 2017 08:26AM
Military delegates leave a session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on March 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Military delegates leave a session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on March 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Beijing says it will increase its defense budget by some seven percent this year in line with its economic development and defense needs amid China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors fueled by “outside meddling.”

The estimated rise in China’s military budget was announced Saturday by the spokesperson of the country’s legislature. The exact figure is due to be announced by Prime Minister Li Keqiang in a Sunday address before the opening of this year’s parliamentary session.

“We call for a peaceful settlement through dialogue and consultation (of the disputes). At the same time we need the ability to safeguard our sovereignty and interests and rights,” said spokeswoman for China’s National People’s Congress Fu Ying.

“In particular,” she added, “We need to guard against outside meddling in the disputes,” without elaborating on the source of the meddling.

China is engaged in a dispute with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam in the South China Sea, where they have overlapping claims of sovereignty over a series of islands and reefs. Beijing is also entangled in a similar territorial row with Japan elsewhere in the East China Sea.

In both cases, the United States has been fueling tensions between China and its neighbors by siding with Beijing’s rivals. Beijing has on numerous occasions slammed Washington for intervening in regional issues and deliberately escalating the situation in the disputed waters.

Fu further said its military buildup was purely for defense objectives and represented a force for stability in Asia.

The planned rise in the Chinese defense budget came just days after US President Donald Trump outlined plans to beef up American military forces by raising expenditures by around 10 percent.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and US President Donald Trump speak during a joint press conference at the White House on February 10, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

In February, Trump reassured visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February that his administration remains committed to maintaining long-standing US “security” alliance with Japan, especially when it comes to the disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

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Trump’s pledge of support for Japan angered Beijing, with its Foreign Ministry emphasizing China’s maritime rights and sovereignty over the islands in the disputed waters.

Japan-US alliance based on ‘Cold War mindset’

In another development, China’s envoy to Japan accused Washington and Tokyo of deliberately depicting Beijing as an enemy to justify their efforts to expand their military ties.

“It sounds as if Japan and the United States are purposely taking China as their enemy and saying ‘Let’s join hands and go at China,” said Ambassador Cheng Yonghua on Friday in Beijing, Japan’s Kyodo news agency.

The Chinese diplomat specifically slammed the agreement to further enhance US-Japan bilateral “security alliance,” describing it as “clearly a Cold War mindset.”

He added that such a policy contradicts Tokyo’s pledge to improve ties with Beijing.

China has repeatedly warned the US and Japan against direct interference in the region, either through military maneuvers or the so-called freedom of navigation patrols in the regional waters.

Beijing insists that it will do everything in its power to protect China’s sovereignty claims in the region.