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China To Increase Defense Spending By 7.5 Percent In 2019

RUSSIA -- Chinese tanks roll during a military exercises on training ground "Tsugol", about 250 kilometers (156 miles ) south-east of the city of Chita during the military exercises Vostok 2018 in Eastern Siberia, September 13, 2018. File photo

China will increase its spending on its armed forces by 7.5 percent in 2019, up to roughly $177 billion, according to a new budget report.

The report was published ahead of the ceremonial meeting of the country's parliament, set for March 5.

China's defense budget is closely watched worldwide for clues as it modernizes its armed forces, and invests in new technologies like stealth fighters, submarines, and anti-satellite missiles.

The 2019 increase is down slightly from 2018, when it was set at 8.1 percent and at 7 percent the previous year.

Prior to 2016, the country had five years of double-digit increases.

Experts and diplomats have said China hides its true military spending for the People's Liberation Army, which has undergone major modernization under President Xi Jinping.

The lack of transparency has led rivals to complain that China is fueling tension in the region.

It also comes as China flexes its clout in territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas and over Taiwan.

China's economic growth target, meanwhile, was set at 6.0 to 6.5 percent for 2019.

The meeting of the 3,000-delegate National People's Congress is China's highest-profile event of the year though it does little actual lawmaking.

Instead, it serves to highlight plans for the year and set the tone for government work.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP