Domestic and international security concerns have dominated the on-going session of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress. This is despite high expectations that Premier Li Keqiang will unveil thorough-going economic reforms in his maiden Government Work Report (hereafter Report), which was delivered at the Great Hall of the People on March 5. A substantial portion of the Report was devoted to issues relating to foreign-policy, military and weiwen (“uphold stability”) measures, which fall within the purview of President Xi Jinping. Following supremo Xi’s oft-repeated dictums, Li indicated that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police (PAP) “must ceaselessly raise their deterrent and actual combat ability under conditions of informatization” (Xinhua, March 5; China News Service, March 5). The weiwen imperative has also been thrust into the limelight in the wake of the terrorist attack in Kunming on March 1, in which 29 Chinese residents were killed by a handful of suspects that Beijing has identified as Uighur extremists (People’s Daily March 4; Ming Pao [Hong Kong], March 4). “We must speed up the construction of a modernized armed police capacity,” Li said in the Report, adding that this force would be deployed to fight terrorism, maintain stability and tackle emergency incidents at home.
It was announced at the parliamentary session that the 2014 defense budget would be RMB 808.2 billion ($132 billion), or 12.2 percent over that of 2013. By contrast, military expenditure in 2013 rose at the slightly lower rate of 10.7 percent. While Premier Li’s portfolio is the economy, not military affairs, his Report methodically laid down the rationale for a leap forward in defense modernization. Li put priority on modernizing the PLA’s logistics facilities and military R&D, especially “the development of high-tech weapons and equipment.” Most significantly, the premier noted that a strengthened military capacity was needed to defend China’s expanded core national interests. “We will resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” Premier Li said. “We must place war preparations on a regular footing and boost ... the defense of [land] borders, as well as maritime and air boundaries.” The premier also highlighted China’s ambitions to become a “strong maritime power” and the commensurate goal of “protecting China’s maritime rights.” Li’s emphasis on “developmental interests”—which include a reliable supply of oil and gas—as well as “maritime rights” seems to indicate that Beijing will substantially boost its hard power projection in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.