MELBOURNE, Australia — China has announced a 6.8 percent growth in its defense budget for next financial year, representing a slight increase from last year’s percentage increase of 6.6 percent as it continues to modernize its military.

The country will spend 1.35 trillion yuan (U.S. $208.58 billion) on its military, according to figures released by China’s Finance Ministry as the country’s leadership convenes for its annual meeting of the National People’s Congress in Beijing.

During his speech to the largely rubber-stamp legislature, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated that efforts to strengthen the People’s Liberation Army will continue. He pledged to boost military training and preparedness across the board as well as improve the country’s approach to defense-related scientific, technological and industrial efforts, without providing further details.

China’s financial year lasts from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.

What are China’s modernization plans?

The announcement of another budgetary increase comes in the wake of an eventful year for the PLA. The armed force in 2020 clashed with Indian troops on its mountainous border, which resulted in deaths on both sides following hand-to-hand combat.

China has also continued its massive military modernization program throughout all branches of the PLA, and continued assertive actions in the East and South China seas with military and paramilitary forces, where China has mounted what some consider a pressure campaign against Taiwan. China is also embroiled in territorial disputes with other Asian nations.

Satellite images published on open-source mapping program Google Earth shows two of China’s three recently commissioned Type 055 Renhai-class cruisers berthed at a naval base near Sanya on Hainan island, which is located at the edge of the South China Sea. The finding suggests both ships are assigned to the South Sea Fleet.

The Type 055 warships are the PLA Navy’s premier surface combatant, each boasting 128 vertical launching system cells capable of firing surface-to-air, anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles. They are also fitted with 3D phased array radar as well as an extensive sensor and electronic warfare suite.

China is building at least eight of these 10,000-ton surface combatants at two different shipyards, along with its third aircraft carrier and three new amphibious helicopter carriers, two of which are undergoing sea trials including a visit to the naval base at Sanya. This indicates that at least one amphibious helicopter carrier may be assigned there when it is commissioned into the PLA Navy.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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