China's national military spending to rise 12.2% in 2014

China said Wednesday it will raise national military spending by 12.2 percent this year to 808.23 billion yuan, continuing double-digit expansion for the fourth straight year amid concern in the region over Beijing's increasingly assertive stance beyond its borders.

China said it will "deepen reform of national defense and the armed forces, strengthen military strategic guidance, and improve the system of modern military power," in a work report of the government, which was delivered for the first time by Premier Li Keqiang after the country's top leaders took office one year ago.

"We will strengthen national defense mobilization and the reserved forces, place war preparations on a regular footing, enhance border, coastal and air defenses," it said.

China also set its economic growth target of around 7.5 percent for 2014, unchanged from last year as nearly 3,000 delegates to the country's top legislature attended an annual session in Beijing to formally endorse policies decided by the ruling Communist Party.

China said it will try to cap its inflation rate at around 3.5 percent for this year, also unchanged from 2013.

During the session of the National People's Congress that will run through March 13, China's leadership under President Xi Jinping, which is facing a myriad of challenges, is most likely to pledge to accelerate economic and social reforms.

China's fast-growing economy, heavily dependent on infrastructure investment and exports, has created serious environmental problems and huge income disparities among its people.

Xi and other Chinese leaders have said it is time for the world's second-largest economy to have more sustained and quality growth, instead of being preoccupied with maximizing gross domestic product figures.

This year's virtual rubber-stamp parliament also comes at a time when China is struggling to ensure public security and defuse tensions with ethnic minorities that have simmering resentment over Chinese rule.

Four days before the opening of the session, a group of knife-wielding assailants stormed through a crowded railway station in the southwestern city of Kunming, leaving at least 29 citizens dead and more than 140 injured.

China has blamed the slashing rampage on separatist forces in the far western region of Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uyghur minority group, describing it as a "premeditated terrorist attack."

The work report called for harmony among different ethnic groups in China and underscored the leadership's resolve to carry out measures to improve the lives of smaller populations.

"We are the people of all of the ethnic groups in the big family of the Chinese nation," it said.

On external relations, it is widely expected that territorial disputes with Japan and some of its neighboring countries are expected to be high on the agenda.

In addition to the standoff over the Senkaku Islands, controlled by Japan but claimed by China, relations between the two countries have severely strained over divergent perceptions of history, especially after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in December.

In the work report, China said, "We will safeguard the victory in World War II and the postwar international order, and will not allow anyone to reverse the course of history."

Other major issues expected to be discussed during the nine-day meeting at the Great Hall of People on Tiananmen Square include corruption among officials, air pollution and urbanization.

On its resolve to fight corruption, China said it will "energetically build a system" to investigate fraud cases and "penalize offenders without mercy in accordance with the law."