Ahead of the National People's Congress, the week-long meeting of the largely rubber-stamp parliament, China's top leaders have promised to boost stimulus to bolster the economy amid rising worries job losses could threaten social stability.
China took the rare move of not setting an annual growth target this year after the coronavirus battered the world's second-largest economy and ravaged global growth, Premier Li Keqiang said Friday.
The omission from Premier Li Keqiang's work report marks the first time China has not set a target for gross domestic product (GDP) since the government began publishing such goals in 1990.
Parliament spokesman Zhang Yesui said Thursday the chamber will introduce a proposal for a national security law in Hong Kong, in a move the USA warned would be "highly destabilising" and which is likely to stoke further unrest in the financial hub. The measure, a sign of Beijing's determination to tighten control over the territory, has prompted complaints by opposition figures there and a threat by the Trump administration to withdraw Hong Kong's preferential trade status.
China reiterated a pledge to implement the first phase of its trade deal with the USA despite setbacks from the coronavirus outbreak, and as tensions escalate between the world's two biggest economies.
The spending will pay to expand China's navy and acquire advanced aircraft and other weapons to help Beijing enforce its territorial claims in the South China Sea and expand its military presence in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.
The year 2020 has become the first in decades in which the Chinese economy has retracted, shrunk primarily by the effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic that has plunged business and industry in the nation into crisis.
Private sector analysts say as much as 30pc of the urban workforce, or as many as 130 million people, lost jobs at least temporarily.
This year, though, the symbolism matters more than usual.
The figure, set at 1.268 trillion yuan ($178.16 billion) in the national budget released on Friday, is closely watched as a barometer of how aggressively the country will beef up its military. That is in line with expectations of higher spending but only a fraction of the $1 trillion-plus stimulus packages launched or discussed by the United States, Japan and Europe.
"These are extraordinary measures for an unusual time", the premier said in the nationally televised speech. Forecasters expect little to no growth this year, down from 2019's 6.1pc, already a multi-decade low.
Li also said governments at all levels should "tighten their belts", and that all types of surplus, idle and carryover funds will be withdrawn and re-allocated, to be put to better use.
Even so, Beijing did make clear that it would step up government spending and stimulate the economy, following the hit from the coronavirus. "Furthermore, public bonds worth 9 trillion yuan will be issued to fight the COVID-19 pandemic", according to the report.
China normally announces its economic goals for the year during the annual meetings of its legislature and top political body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, held in February or March.