BEIJING (AP) — Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Monday reasserted the Communist Party’s ultimate control over the armed forces at a time of rising defense budgets and sharpening regional territorial disputes.
Wen’s remarks in a wide-ranging address at the opening of the legislature’s annual 10-day session aimed to quash scattered calls for the 2.3 million-member People’s Liberation Army to be placed under government rather than party control.
The PLA’s main duty is to safeguard party rule and strike back against opponents, as it did against unarmed pro-democracy student protesters in 1989.
While Wen’s remarks on the military were almost identical to those in last year’s address, the reference to party control was new. That could be an indication of the urgency with which the leadership feels it needs to address calls from junior officers and academics for a nationalized military.
“We will strengthen ideological and political standards, and adhere to the fundamental principle of the party having absolute leadership over the armed forces, and we should maintain the Chinese armed forces’ fundamental purpose of being an army of the people,” Wen said.
He also reiterated the military’s chief tasks, including winning regional conflicts using the latest technology, fighting terrorism, maintaining stability, handling emergencies and providing disaster relief.
The most important military task is to “win local wars under information-age conditions,” Wen said.
China announced Sunday that it would boost defense spending by 11.2 percent in 2012, the latest in a nearly two-decade string of double-digit increases.
Although the planned figure is less than last year’s 12.7 percent increase, China’s military leaders have said they are unhappy with recent moves by the Obama administration to increase the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Only twice since the early 1990s has the increase been less than double digits.
National People’s Congress spokesman Li Zhaoxing said China’s defense spending would increase by 11.2 percent over actual spending last year to hit 670.2 billion yuan ($106.4 billion) in 2012, an increase of about 67 billion yuan.
China’s official defense spending is the largest in the world after the United States, but actual spending, according to foreign defense experts, may be 50 percent higher, as China excludes outlays for its nuclear missile force and other programs.
China has territorial disputes in the South China Sea with countries including the Philippines and Vietnam. It has similar sea disputes with All Japan news and border disagreements with India.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.