China's defense spending this year will rise 6.6% from 2019, according to a report issued at the opening of the country's annual meeting of parliament on Friday, a slower rate than last year.
The figure, set at 1.268 trillion yuan (US$178.16 billion), is closely watched as a barometer of how aggressively the country will beef up its military capabilities.
China set a 7.5% rise for the defense budget in 2019, outpacing what ended up as full-year gross domestic product growth of 6.1% in the world's second-largest economy.
China's economy shrank 6.8% in the first quarter of 2020 compared with a year earlier, as the novel coronavirus spread from the central city of Wuhan, where it emerged late last year.
China omitted a 2020 economic growth target for the first time and pledged government support for the economy in Premier Li Keqiang's work report on Friday
Despite the coronavirus outbreak, the armed forces of China and the United States have remained active in the disputed South China Sea and around Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
The coronavirus has worsened already-poor ties between Beijing and Washington.
China routinely says that spending is for defensive purposes, that it is a comparatively low percentage of its GDP, and that critics just want to keep the country down.
China reports only a raw figure for military expenditure, with no breakdown. It is widely believed by diplomats and foreign experts to under-report the real number.
Taking the reported figure at face value, China's defense budget in 2020 is about a quarter of the US defense budget last year, which stood at US$686 billion.
China has long argued that it needs much more investment to close the gap with the US. China, for example, has only two aircraft carriers, compared with 12 for the US.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) reached two major milestones last year, unveiling both China's first homegrown aircraft and its first intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the US. China also built its first overseas military base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, in 2017.