BEIJING, March 7 (Xinhua) -- Lawmakers and political advisors attending the annual sessions of China's parliament and top political advisory body backed the country's increased defense budget in 2009, saying the 15 percent rise was reasonable and appropriate.
"I am glad to know that the country is undertaking to further improve the well-being of its servicemen," said Bai Yonghui, a People's Liberation Army (PLA) captain from northwestern China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
China on Wednesday revealed its 2009 planned defense budget of 481billion yuan (about 70 billion U.S. dollars), a rise of 62 billion yuan from last year. Like previous years, much of the additional funding would go toward boosting salaries and benefits for servicemen.
A deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislative body, Bai has been stationed in a military post sitting near the China-Kazakhstan border in Xinjiang for years.
"My fellow soldiers and I used to raise pigs and grow vegetables by ourselves to keep us from starving only a few years ago," he said.
"Thanks to the rising subsidies out of the increasing military expenditure, we are now fully supplied with adequate food, uniforms, and medical services.
"Our post is now equipped with Internet accesses and air conditioners," Bai said, adding that temperatures in the region could drop to minus 20 degrees Centigrade in winter.
"Increased defense budget does good to further improvement of our living standards," said Bai.
"I agree with Li Zhaoxing that the servicemen's living standard should be improved along with that of civilian citizens," he said.
"What China plans to spend on each soldier this year makes only 4.5 percent of that of the United States, 11.3 percent of Japan, or 5.3 percent of the United Kingdom", said Song Xiaojun, a Beijing-based military expert.
China's defense expenditure accounted for 1.4 percent of it's GDP in 2008, while it was 4 percent with the United States, and more than 2 percent with the United Kingdom, France and some other countries.
In an entry titled "Why so concerned with China's military spending increase?" posted on his blog, Song writes, "In my opinion, China's military expenditure is rising too slowly instead of too fast.
"China's military budget has been maintained at the minimum level," Song said while telling of his own experience when giving a lecture at the Army Aviation Institute in Beijing last year.
"The institute is the only one in PLA to train helicopter pilots and mechanics," he said, "All the pilots who participated in last year's earthquake disaster relief are graduates from this institute."
"But the school could not even afford to build a swimming pool for the students, nor could it repay the money owed to the construction company which built its teaching building," he said.
"Personally speaking, I would love to see some more increase of China's military expenditure," he said, adding that this year's defense budget rise followed a 17.6 percent increase in 2008 compared with the previous year.
Luo Yuan, a PLA major general and a researcher with the Beijing-based Academy of Military Sciences, also defended the double-digit growth in military spending amid financial crisis, saying that a moderate increase would benefit the Chinese people and the country.
"Investment in national defense can generate social and economic benefits beyond imagination, especially in times of crisis or great challenges," said Luo who was here to attend the Second Session of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body in the country.
He said after the 8.0-magnitude earthquake jolted southeast China's Sichuan Province, hundreds of thousands of army officers flung themselves to the quake zones, and played the leading role in saving people's lives, cutting economic losses, and post-quake reconstruction.
In addition, investment in national defense projects, such as construction of roads, docks and airports, can also serve the purpose of boosting domestic demand, he said.
Luo denied accusations that China has not made adequate effort to make its defense expenditure transparent enough.
The Chinese government began to submit annual reports on military expenditure to the United Nations from 2007, he said, adding that a white paper on China's nation defense published earlier this year chronicled in details the country's military expenditure over the past three decades.
"It's not an issue of transparency here, but rather one of trust," Luo said.