Premier's assertion follows news that China's defence budget will rise 12.7%
Beijing - Premier Wen Jiabao vowed yesterday that China would continue building a powerful military, one day after Beijing announced a return to double-digit percentage hikes in defence spending.
'Strengthening national defence and building a powerful people's army are important guarantees for safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests,' Mr Wen said in a speech opening the nation's legislature.
'We will energetically yet prudently press ahead with reform of national defence and the military,' he said.
A spokesman for the National People's Congress said on Friday that China's defence budget would rise 12.7 per cent for this year to 601.1 billion yuan (S$116 billion).
A multi-year trend of double- digit percentage increases was broken last year when the budget rose just 7.5 per cent.
China has upgraded the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) capabilities over the past three decades, developing advanced weaponry like its first stealth fighter jet, revealed in January.
The campaign has alarmed the United States, Japan and others in the region and raised fears that a more assertive China would seek to project its power overseas.
'It is an extremely high ratio for defence spending,' Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told reporters on Friday.
'We cannot help worrying about what all the money is used for.'
[As the largest military force in the world, with vast land and sea borders, it is only logical that their military has to be adequately equipped. That the military has no upgraded their equipment for decades (previously) just means that they have a lot of catching up to do. As the second largest economy in the world, it only stands to reason that they have sufficient military might to protect their interest.
What the world is concerned about is probably the fact that the Chinese may not be constrained by ethical or ideological principles that has mostly guided the US as the sole superpower. ]
Yesterday, Mr Wen said 'great progress was made in the modernisation of national defence and the army' in the past five years.
China would continue to develop new weaponry and 'vigorously adapt our military training to the information age', he said.
The announced budget is widely believed to be far lower than actual spending.
Dr Willy Lam, a China analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the published military budget - which he noted was likely only one-third to half of actual spending - will be poured into next-generation equipment.
'The return to this double-digit PLA budget reflects the growing power of the PLA,' he told AFP. 'They are trying to close the gap with Russia and the United States.'
The PLA - the world's largest military force - is hugely secretive about its defence programmes, but insists its modernisation is aimed purely at defence of China's vast land and sea borders.
'This will not pose a threat to any country,' Mr Li Zhaoxing, the Parliament spokesman and a former foreign minister, said in announcing the budget.
China began revamping the PLA - the former ragtag peasant force formed in 1927 by the Communist Party - in earnest after a troubled 1979 incursion into Vietnam, when the neighbours vied for influence over South-east Asia.
Besides conventional weaponry upgrades, the push also has led to China's fast-growing space programme and the testing of a satellite-killing weapon in 2007.