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China increases military spending to be smallest in 6 years

China is set to increase its defense spending by 7 to 8 percent this year, the lowest rise in the country’s military budget over the past six years.

Fu Ying, the spokeswoman for the Chinese National People’s Congress, told reporters in Beijing on Friday that the country needs to consider its defense needs, economic development as well as fiscal position in drafting the 2016 defense budget.

An increase of 7 to 8 percent would take China’s defense spending for this year to between $154 and $155 billion compared to $144 billion last year.

Ni Lexiong, a military expert at Shanghai’s University of Political Science and Law told the Associated Press that the modest size of the increase appeared to surprise many observers who had been expecting another double-digit rise in line with the military’s higher profile.

The budget is still about one-quarter that of the United States. China has the world’s largest standing military with over two million troops.

The developments come as the US has increased its military presence in the South China Sea amid territorial disputes between China and its neighbors.

The US Navy has recently announced plans to increase its operations in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

 This US Navy photo obtained on February 1, 2016 shows the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) as it conducts a live fire gunnery exercise on January 15, 2016 in the South China Sea. ©AFP

Admiral Harry Harris, the head of the US Pacific Command, has recently said that the sailings involve a US warship coming within 12 nautical miles of islets claimed by China.

Since October, the US Navy has carried out two such operations in the South China Sea.

Tensions have escalated in recent months between Washington and Beijing over the disputed waters.

The US has accused China of militarizing the area. This is while Chinese government blames the US military presence, its deployment of an advanced missile system, and its military drills for the tensions in the region.

Beijing has also expressed concern over the possible deployment of an American missile system in South Korea, saying it could jeopardize China’s national security.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the US Department of Defense.

On February 25, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the US needed to address the concerns raised by China about THAAD’s capabilities, which is designed to intercept ballistic missiles inside or just outside the atmosphere during their final phase of flight.

The US says the deployment of the missile system to the Korean Peninsula acts as a deterrent against North Korea’s ballistic missile program, but Russia and China say such a move would undermine stability on the restive peninsula.

China and Russia also view the planned move as an attempt to put their military facilities within the range of US radars.

Thousands of US soldiers are stationed in South Korea and Japan.

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