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Security personnel are deployed around the Great Hall of the People in Beijing (Photo by Kosaku Mimura).
China People's Congress 2018

China spending puts domestic security ahead of defense

Budget rise highest in western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet

CK TAN, Nikkei staff writer | China

BEIJING -- While China's stepped-up military posture has resulted in increasing confrontations with India, the U.S., Japan and other countries, Beijing has actually been pouring even more resources into domestic security than external security.

China's annual spending on domestic security has more than tripled since 2007, to reach 1.24 trillion yuan ($193 billion) last year, according to an analysis published on Monday by Adrian Zenz, who researches Chinese policy in Tibet and Xinjiang at the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal, Germany. By his calculations, the total was about 19% more than both the comparable figure for the U.S. and the amount China spent on external defense.

China has pared back publication of information on security spending in recent years, amid negative attention from foreign media. The increase in security spending has been highest in areas with major populations of religious and ethnic minorities. The government of what is formally the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region said last month that its security spending alone rose 92.8% last year from 2016 to reach 57.95 billion yuan. It had spent only 5.45 billion on security in 2007.

On per capita basis, China spent 3,137 yuan on security last year in Tibet and 2,417 yuan in Xinjiang, Zenz estimated, compared with a national average of 763 yuan. Beijing has focused attention on these two areas due to social unrest. In the case of Xinjiang, the authorities have sought to stop attacks on police and security forces while in Tibetan areas, they have focused on stopping public self-immolations. This year marks the 10th anniversary of ethnic riots in Tibet that resulted in heavy casualties.

"We will continue the [initiative to] take strict preventive measures against violent and terrorist activities and see them firmly stamped out," Premier Li Keqiang told the National People's Congress on March 5. Authorities have implemented a series of counterterrorism measures, involving biometric scanning, artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies.

A lawmaker from Xinjiang told the parliament on Tuesday that the supervision carried out "online and offline, domestically and overseas, in and out Xinjiang" had helped to keep terrorism at bay last year.

An ethnic Tibetan who visited Lhasa last autumn told Nikkei that he had been forced to go through stricter security checks than members of China's majority Han ethnic group. "We cannot express ourselves as we please even among family members," he said.

A public security volunteer looks at her mobile phone in central Beijing.   © Reuters

In Beijing, where per person security spending of 1,651 yuan trailed only the two minority regions, police and civil volunteers now stand guard at key locations, supplementing security cameras. Journalists covering the ongoing legislative meetings have been subjected to more rigorous checks than in recent years.

According to Zenz's report, which was published by U.S. think tank Jamestown Foundation, domestic security spending has exceeded external defense spending since 2010. The gap has grown since Xi Jinping became president in 2013. Domestic security, in Zenz's figures, including spending on police, courts and prosecutors.

Nikkei staff writer Oki Nagai in Beijing contributed to this article.

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