Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country will strengthen its armed forces and improve its preparedness for military combat, state media said Tuesday, amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over the coronavirus outbreak and China’s decision to propose legislation that would tighten control over Hong Kong.

Xi spoke on the sidelines of China’s National People’s Congress, an annual political event where legislation approved by China’s ruling Community Party is rubber-stamped. China announced over the weekend that it intends to increase its military budget by 6.6% in 2020 to about $178 billion, a slightly lower figure than military analysts forecast before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

The United States has the world’s largest defense budget – $738 billion slated for 2020 representing almost 40% of total global military spending, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a Sweden-based global security think tank. The United States maintains hundreds of military bases around the world from Germany to South Korea. China has just one, in the Republic of Djibouti in East Africa.

President Donald Trump accuses China of misleading the USA and other countries about what, and when, it knew about the origins of the coronavirus. Trump threatened China with a “strong” reaction – possibly sanctions – over Beijing’s plan to adopt a national security law for Hong Kong that critics said will jeopardize the semiautonomous territory’s partial legal and financial independence from China.

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