China is Stepping Up Its Preparedness for Armed Combat, Will Spend $178 Billion on Its Military This Year

China's President Xi Jinping has stressed his desire to bolster the nation's military, days after it was revealed the country is to spend $178 billion on its forces this year.

Xi is said to have "stressed achieving the targets and missions of strengthening the national defense and armed forces for 2020, while maintaining effective epidemic control on a regular basis," according to state media.

The nation's Xinhua news agency said Xi made the comments while attending a plenary meeting of the delegation of the People's Liberation Army and People's Armed Police Force.

Reuters reports that state television detailed how Xi expressed concerns over the "profound impact on national security" of the coronavirus pandemic. He is also reported to have said the military should look into new ways of training, and spoke of stepping up its preparedness for armed combat.

Last week, China released details of its national budget, which showed military spending still increase by 6.6 percent on 2019 this year at a figure of more than 1.2 trillion yuan ($178 billion), despite the hit to the economy brought by coronavirus.

Though a major boost, the figure marks the nation's slowest military increase in three decades, with investment having seen China becoming second only to the United States on military spend.

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Soldiers of the People's Liberation Army's Honour Guard Battalion wear protective masks as they stand at attention in front of photo of China's president Xi Jinping at their barracks outside the Forbidden City, near Tiananmen Square, on May 20, 2020. Xi has expressed his desire for the military to be strengthened. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Premier Li Keqiang, speaking to National People's Congress delegates, after outlining the spending earlier this month, said: "We will deepen reforms in national defense and the military, increase our logistic and equipment support capacity, and promote innovative development of defense-related science and technology.

"We will improve the system of national defense mobilisation and ensure that the unity between the military and the government and between the military and the people remains rock solid."

It comes as China faces growing disputes between other nations over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, in mainland China.

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Chinese president Xi Jinping is seen on a large screen showing the evening news during a session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People on May 25, 2020 in Beijing, China. He has spoken of strengthening the country's military. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has criticized China's actions, while the nation and the U.S. have put trade sanctions against each other as they clash.

Trump went so far earlier this month as to suggest he could "cut off the whole relationship" between the U.S. and China.

As previously reported by Newsweek, a CIA report said China pressured the World Health Organization to not declare a global health emergency, threatening to stop coordination with the agency if it did.

China has rejected these accusations, with Huang Luqi, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, quoted by Xinhua as saying: "China has been upholding the principles of openness, transparency and responsibility, and took the initiative to release the information at earliest possible time."

Accusations from the U.S. were also described as "completely groundless" by Huang, who defended China's speed at reporting cases of "pneumonia of unknown cause" in December to the WHO.

Tensions have further grown between the U.S. and China, with pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong causing a clash between the nations, as Beijing's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday the nations were heading towards a "new Cold War."

He said: "Some political forces in the U.S. are hijacking the China-U.S. relations and pushing our two countries toward a 'new Cold War.' This dangerous attempt to turn back the wheel of history will undo the fruits of decades of long cooperation between the two peoples."

Newsweek has contacted the Chinese embassy in Washington for comment.