China hikes defence budget to $175 bn

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"We will unite, gather strength, and work solidly to create the future".

The proposal to remove the presidential term limit from the constitution has dominated global discussions about China since it was announced last month, sparking fears of a unsafe return to one-man rule.

China's decision to lift presidential term limits, which will allow Xi Jinping to remain the nation's leader indefinitely, was met with gushing enthusiasm by delegates gathered for the annual meeting of the nation's parliament that started Monday.

Another delegate from central Henan province said "Xi Jinping is great", but several other legislators refused to answer questions about the amendment.

Wu Qiang, former lecturer in the department of political science at Tsinghua University, said he believes the amendments are sure to be approved. But the president is the only one with a formal limit of two terms - introduced by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to prevent another lifelong dictatorship after Mao Zedong's tumultuous rule.

China will open doors wider to foreign investors this year by completely opening up its general manufacturing sector and expand access to a number of other sectors, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Monday.

The 8.1% increase is higher than last year's announcement, when China upped military spending by 7% over the previous year.

Premier Li Kequiang said in his opening address that China will "advance all aspects of military training and war preparedness, and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests".

The boost in the defense budget comes as China is "faced with profound changes in the national security environment", Li said.

Defense spending has increased following Xi's appointment as Commander-in-Chief in April 2016.

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"Compared with other major powers in the world, China's national defense budget is still small either in terms of its proportion to GDP or the per capita amount of the whole population or of all soldiers", said Chen Zhou.

"We completed the task of reducing the army by 300,000 people", he said. The defence spending figure is closely watched around the world for clues to China's strategic intentions as it develops new military capabilities, including stealth fighters, aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles.

All three fleets are growing "leaner and meaner" due to a greater emphasis on technical sophistication, Erickson wrote, adding that the USA also anticipates facing a Chinese submarine fleet twice its number, though less technologically advanced.

"The concern in the West is, what does it intend to do with it?"

"It's a numbers game", Lui said.

Still, Beijing's build-up in spending sends an "alarming" signal to countries in the region and around the South China Sea.

Wang helped Xi in his campaign against corruption but retired from the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee past year due to the party retirement age.

Asked if the move for Xi to potentially become president for life represented a backward step, Wang Jiaqi, from the rustbelt northeastern province of Jilin, said China should follow its own political model. "Also, I saw it as a slightly unorthodox move, rather than indicating a change to the entire system". "You know, President Xi, I really admire him".

Reported by Gao Feng and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. "They'll make a pair", he said. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.