China to increase 2020 defence budget by 6

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers the government work report during the opening session of China's National People's Congress at the Great Hal

"Our country will face some factors that are hard to predict in its development due to the great uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the world economic and trade environment", said Premier Li Keqiang in his annual address to China's legislature, the National People's Congress.

"China stands ready to work with other countries to strengthen international cooperation on COVID-19 control, promote stability in the world economy, advance global governance, and uphold the international system with the United Nations at its core and an international order based on international law", Li said in the report.

Parliament spokesman Zhang Yesui said Thursday the chamber will introduce a proposal for a national security law in Hong Kong, in a move the United States warned would be "highly destabilising" and which is likely to stoke further unrest in the financial hub.

China's defence spending is set to increase at a slower rate this year, as Beijing grapples with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

But growth in defence spending has slowed since, with China and the USA embroiled in a bitter trade war that has put pressure on the domestic economy, now further battered by the coronavirus pandemic. But President Donald Trump said later in an interview that he is having "a very hard time with China" and last week said the USA would "save $500 billion" if it cut off ties with China.

This year, though, the symbolism matters more than usual.

Delegates bow their heads during the opening session of China's National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Friday M
China skips growth target due to virus, a first in years

The premier also talked about cutting 500 billion yuan in taxes and fees, pointing out that the government will aggressively implement current policies together with institutional arrangements to create a more enabling environment, helping market entities overcome difficulties and achieve development. That is in line with expectations of higher spending but a fraction of the $1 trillion-plus economic relief packages launched or discussed by the United States, Japan and Europe.

"These are extraordinary measures for an unusual time", said Li.

The world's second-largest economy contracted by 6.8% over a year earlier in the three months ending in March after factories, offices, travel and other businesses were shut down to fight the virus. Forecasters expect little to no growth this year, down from 2019's 6.1pc, already a multi-decade low.

The country will significantly shorten its negative list for foreign investment, while a negative list will also be drawn up for cross-border trade in services, said the report.

Beijing is using the legislative session to pass a bill establishing "an enforcement mechanism for ensuring national security" for Hong Kong, setting up a potential showdown with Trump, who has come under pressure in Washington to reconsider the city's special trading status.

Li, the premier, gave no details. The significant announcement was made ahead of the National People's Congress, a week-long annual event. Officials are holding news conferences by video instead of meeting reporters face to face.

28 new Covid-19 cases in Hamilton County
President Vladimir Putin highlighted the region's grave situation this week, pledging to send aid and implement "urgent measures". The North Caucasus republic of Dagestan has emerged as a virus hotspot, with the fifth highest number of infections.

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