World

China to strengthen military

China said Friday it will strengthen its military to thwart any attempt by Taiwan to push for independence, but vowed that it was committed to the peaceful development of the world's largest army.

China said Friday it will strengthen its military to thwart any attempt by Taiwan to push for independence, but vowed that it was committed to the peaceful development of the world's largest army.

A report issued by the State Council, China's cabinet, also said the country's defence policy will focus on protecting its borders and sea space, cracking down on terrorism and modernizing its weapons.

"China will not engage in any arms race or pose a military threat to any other country," the 91-page white paper said.

"China is determined to remain a staunch force for global peace, security and stability."

The Communist nation's 2.3 million-strong military is the world's largest but has been criticized for its lack of transparency about its buildup.

Its reported 2006 budget is $35 billion US, but analysts believe the true figure, which doesn't include weapons purchases and other key items, is several times higher. By comparison, U.S. President George W. Bush has signed a bill authorizing $532 billion US in defence spending for the 2007 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

One of Beijing's key short-term goals has been to take a firm stand against any independence efforts by Taiwan, the self-ruled island that the Communist mainland claims as part of its territory.

It has hundreds of missiles pointed in its direction across the Taiwan Straits.

China has also spent heavily to beef up its arsenal with submarines, jet fighters and other high-tech weapons.

"The struggle to oppose and contain the separatist forces for Taiwan independence and their activities remains a hard one," the report said.

It indirectly criticized the United States for promising Beijing that it will adhere to the "one-China" policy, "but it continues to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan, and has strengthened military ties with Taiwan."

Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but remains Taiwan's major foreign backer, and is committed by law to providing it weapons to defend itself against possible Chinese attack.

China has announced double-digit military spending increases nearly every year since the early 1990s, causing unease among its neighbours.

But despite its huge size, its forces are said to lag well behind those of other major countries. In recent years, leaders have focused on improved training and advanced technology, hoping to close that gap.

"This increase … is compensatory in nature, and is designed to enhance the originally weak defence foundation," the white paper said. "It is a moderate increase in step with China's national economic development."

It said the army is speeding up upgrades of battle equipment while the navy is building up its weaponry and troops. The air force is giving priority to the development of new fighters as well as air and missile defence weapons, it said. No details were given.