Chinese President Hu Jintao has told a group of senior officers the next five years will be "an important period" for the nation's military modernization, state media reported Sunday.
"The 11th five-year plan (from 2006 to 2010) is a crucial period for the establishment of a comparatively prosperous society," Hu said Saturday, according to a front-page story in the People's Daily. "It is also an important period for defense and army modernization," he told the officers, assembled in Beijing as delegates to the ongoing National People's Congress, or Parliament.
Hu's remarks came just days after China announced its military budget for this year would rise 14.7 percent to 35 billion dollars, the latest in a series of double-digit annual increases dating back to the early 1990s.
A Pentagon report last year estimated that China's defense spending was two to three times the publicly announced figure and that the military balance with archrival Taiwan was tipping in Beijing's favor.
Hu, who met the officers in his capacity as chairperson of the powerful Central Military Commission, was wearing a simple green military jacket for the occasion, photos in the People's Daily showed. He said efforts should be stepped up to equip the army with modern information technology and improve its combat efficiency through high-tech means.
"We should strive to improve the capability of the armed forces to deal with crises, maintain peace, contain wars and win victory in possible wars," he said. "We must give top priority to defending national sovereignty and security, and get ready for military struggles ... We must follow the scientific concept of sustainable development to strengthen national defense and army building."
China has been striving to transform its military from an organization that relied on strength in numbers to a leaner, more sophisticated fighting force. It announced in January it had demobilized 200,000 members of its military over the previous three years, but even after those personnel cuts, it remained the world's largest with 2.3 million troops. [Via AFP]