- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

BEIJING (AP) - The Chinese government announced a big bump in spending on the armed forces Wednesday, saying it will increase its defense budget by 12.2 percent this year to $132 billion, as the country opened its ceremonial legislature.

The figure for defense spending, included in a budget report released ahead of the National People’s Congress, rose 10 percent last year to 720 billion yuan ($114 billion), the most for any nation apart from the U.S.

Premier Li Keqiang told the legislature that the government would further modernize China’s armed forces, “upgrade their performance, and continue to raise their deterrence and combat capabilities in the information age.” He said China would “strengthen national defense mobilization and the reserve forces, place war preparations on a regular footing and enhance border, coastal and air defenses.”

Beijing says it supports resolving disputes through negotiations and that its 2.3 million-member People’s Liberation Army is for defensive purposes only. But it also has warned neighbors against testing its resolve on sovereignty issues.

China and its neighbors have been in disputes over the control of islands and sea lanes in surrounding oceans. There has been a sharp escalation of tensions with Japan in the past 18 months over control of a string of tiny uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

While becoming increasingly assertive in its own territorial claims, Beijing has at the same time accused Japan of renewed militarism while dwelling on Tokyo’s history as an aggressor and colonialist during the World War II period.

“We will safeguard the victory of World War II and the postwar international order, and will not allow anyone to reverse the course of history,” Li said.

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