BEIJING China's spending on police and domestic surveillance will hit new heights this year, with "public security" outlays unveiled on Saturday outstripping the defense budget for the first time as Beijing cracks down on protest calls.
China's ruling Communist Party also issued its loudest warning yet against recent Internet-spread calls for "Jasmine Revolution" protest gatherings inspired by popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.
The 13.8 percent jump in China's planned budget for police, state security, armed civil militia, courts and jails was unveiled at the start of the annual parliamentary session, and brought planned spending on law and order items to 624.4 billion yuan ($95.0 billion).
By contrast, China's People's Liberation Army budget is set to rise 12.7 percent to 601.1 billion yuan ($91.5 billion).
"This would be the first time that the openly announced domestic security budget has surpassed military spending," said Xie Yue, a political scientist at Tongji University in Shanghai. He called the figure a gauge of China's spending on what officials call "stability protection."
"This shows the rising costs of maintaining internal control," said Xie, who studies China's domestic security policies and spending. "This system is very sensitive to any instability or contention."
THE BLESSINGS OF STABILITY
The Beijing Daily, a Party mouthpiece, signaled that China would not relax its crackdown against Internet-spread calls for pro-democracy protests inspired by Middle Eastern uprisings.
"Everyone knows that stability is a blessing and chaos is a calamity," said the newspaper, which is the mouthpiece of the Communist Party administration for China's capital.
The bulk of China's spending growth on internal security and law and order comes from provincial and local government outlays, tables in the Chinese-language version of the Finance Ministry report showed. The central government's "public security" budget for 2011 is 161.7 billion yuan, a rise of 9.6 percent in that figure from 2010.
The budget figures and protest warning show how jumpy China's leaders are about potential unrest, despite robust economic growth and powerful security forces. The forces were on show in Beijing on Saturday, with police and troops stationed at nearly every major street corner.
Last year, central and local agencies spent 548.6 billion yuan on public security, more than the 514.0 billion yuan the government initially budgeted. As a result, actual spending on internal order last year was slightly higher than spending on national defense, which hit 532.1 billion yuan.
Chinese scholars have said spending on enforcing domestic security is diverting money from welfare spending and other initiatives that could ease causes of social unrest.
"When a goal as vast and vague as 'stability maintenance' becomes an obvious leadership priority, and there is money about, people will come rushing out of the woodwork arguing that the thing they want to do is critical to stability maintenance," said Murray Scot Tanner, a researcher who studies China's domestic security policies for CNA, a private research group in the United States.
Many foreign experts believe China's real military budget is much bigger. Xie, the Shanghai professor, said spending on "stability maintenance" was also far higher than official data.
China's most immediate security fear is the online move for "Jasmine Revolution" protest gatherings inspired by the political flux across the Middle East and North Africa, but protest calls in China have little chance of taking off.
Police have rounded up dozens of dissidents. Internet censorship also means that few Chinese residents are aware of the calls for protests spread by an overseas Chinese website.
"Those people intent on concocting and finding Middle East-style news in China will find their plans come to nothing," said the Beijing Daily commentary.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley, Editing by Don Durfee and Daniel Magnowski)