BEIJING — China announced its largest ever defense budget Tuesday, a day after the Pentagon warned that China’s burgeoning military is fine-tuning its abilities for cyber-warfare and in disabling the satellites of potential enemies. China’s defense budget will rise to $59 billion this year, an increase of 17.6 percent over a year earlier, said Jiang Enzhu, a spokesman for the National People’s Congress.
The increase, the latest in a string of double-digit hikes over more than a decade, puts China’s military spending on a par with that of Russia, Britain and Japan.
The announcement of the hike coincided with a new war of words between Beijing and Washington over China’s defense spending, virtually an annual event at this time of year.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang lashed out at a Pentagon report issued Monday in Washington that decried what it called a lack of transparency in China’s military buildup that raised questions about the nation’s intentions.
“The report has distorted facts, interfered with China’s internal affairs and acted against the rules of international relations,” Qin said. “China is no threat to any country.”
Jiang said the military budget was barely keeping pace with the nation’s galloping economy, and that defense hikes lagged behind the growth of government revenues. For the past five years, he said, China’s defense-budget increases averaged 15.8 percent each year while government revenues soared 22.1 percent a year.
He added that the military budget increases “were of a compensatory nature to make up for the weak defense foundation.” He said the additional money would go for higher salaries, rising energy costs and “moderate” increases in arms purchases.
In Washington, the Pentagon’s annual assessment of China’s military power focused on the growing capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army to thwart the space-based technology of potential foes, not only in shooting down satellites, as it did in January 2007 with an aged weather satellite.
“The PLA is also exploring satellite jammers, kinetic energy weapons, high-powered lasers, high-powered microwave weapons, particle beam weapons and electromagnetic pulse weapons for counter-space application,” the report said.
It noted repeated “intrusions” from China into computer networks and said the invasions employed “many of the skills and capabilities that would also be required for computer network attack.”
“The exact same techniques that you use to intrude into a computer you could use to then attack it later on,” David Sedney, a top Pentagon specialist on China, said at a news briefing in Washington.
China’s stated defense budget is barely a tenth the size of the U.S. defense budget, but Bush administration officials contend that many costs, including weapons acquisitions, are hidden and that real defense spending is two or three times greater.
President Bush has proposed a $515 billion U.S. defense budget for 2009, excluding money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Pentagon report said China had expanded its navy to include 57 attack submarines, including eight equipped with advanced Russian supersonic missiles known as “Sizzlers,” which some experts consider the finest anti-ship missiles in existence.
The report added that U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement now considers China the “leading espionage threat” to the United States and that the FBI thinks that Chinese spies are “running an aggressive and wide-ranging effort” to obtain advanced U.S. military technology.