US Pacific Fleet commander, in Tokyo, says China's military budget lacks transparency

A military parade is held in Inner Mongolia on July 30 to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army

The figure released in a report Monday to the National People's Congress is an increase from previous year, when ministry officials told the Associated Press the budget was rising to 1.044 trillion yuan ($151 billion).

The premier pledged that foreign and domestic banks will be placed on equal footing in terms of market access, and that foreign investment will be welcomed in bank card settlement services and the insurance business.

Tellingly, Li also omitted last year's aim for growth to be "higher if possible in practice". "The winners are clearly upstream sectors and real estate developers".

The report said broad M2 money-supply growth would remain moderate, without including a numerical target as had been previously the case.

China does not provide a breakdown of how it allocates its defense budget, leading neighbors and other military powers to complain that Beijing's lack of transparency has added to regional tension.

After years of spurring breakneck growth through heavy investment in roads, railways and other infrastructure, China appears to be trying to tread more carefully.

The report predicts that more than 11 million jobs will be created this year, and China will accelerate the growth in defense spending.

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The 2018 outlay compares with a seven percent increase last year and 7.6 percent in 2016, which marked the first time in six years that spending growth was not in double figures.

China says it spends 1.3 percent of its GDP on military spending. That's up 8.1 percent from a year ago. "There's a lot of questions on the minds of countries in the region of what exactly does this mean?"

"We have undertaken major missions involving the protection of maritime rights, countering terrorism and maintaining stability, disaster rescue and relief, worldwide peacekeeping, escort services in the Gulf of Aden, and humanitarian rescue", Li said of the Chinese military's recent activities.

The first constitutional revision in more than a decade may also include the incorporation of Xi's political thought into the country's supreme law, a move that would make China's long-established collective leadership system a mere formality.

"China calls for trade disputes to be settled through discussions as equals, opposes trade protectionism, and will resolutely safeguard its lawful rights", Mr Li said.

"China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea", the strategy said.

Commenting on the reaction to Chinese authorities' plans to increase the country's military spending in 2018, the state-run China Daily reported "finger-pointing from the usual suspects" and at the same time recalled that "China's military lags well behind other major countries".

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