China's 2014 defence budget to rise 12.2 percent

China will raise its official defence budget by 12.2 percent this year, the finance ministry said Wednesday, another double-digit increase in the rising power's military spending that alarms its neighbours.

The Asian giant has for years boosted spending on its People's Liberation Army, reflecting its military ambitions as it asserts its global standing and its claims in a series of territorial disputes with Japan and other countries in the region.

"The appropriation for national defence is 808.23 billion yuan ($132 billion), up 12.2 percent," the ministry said in a budget report prepared for the annual session of the rubberstamp National People's Congress (NPC), which opens Wednesday.

"Based on our history and experience, we believe that peace can only be maintained by strength," NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying said ahead of the gathering.

Beijing set an increase in military spending of 10.7 percent in 2013, following announced rises of 11.2 percent in 2012 and 12.7 percent in 2011.

The increases have raised concerns in the United States and Asia, particularly long-time rival Japan, with the two embroiled in an escalating row over East China Sea islands called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese.

Tokyo's cabinet agreed in December to spend 24.7 trillion yen ($240 billion) between 2014 and 2019 on defence needs, representing a five percent boost over five years -- and eliciting criticism from Beijing.

Japan's actions "must cause great concern to neighbouring countries in Asia and the international community", defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said in December.

Analysts believe China's actual military spending is significantly higher than publicised, with the Pentagon estimating that in 2012 it reached between $135 billion and $215 billion.

Li Qinggong, deputy secretary-general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, said previously that Beijing will prioritise improving its high-tech sea, air and nuclear arsenals, with the main focus likely to be on China's navy, including adding aircraft carriers and strengthening fleets.