China's defence spending will rise by 11.2 per cent this year, the latest in a long string of double-digit increases amid growing regional concern over Beijing's robust military build-up. The figure was announced by Li Zhaoxing, the spokesman for the National People's Congress, ahead of the country's annual parliamentary session which opens today. It will bring China's official military spending to 670.3 billion yuan (HK$824 billion) for this year, after a 12.7 per cent increase last year and a nearly unbroken string of double-digit rises over two decades. Military experts said actual spending might be substantially higher, as Beijing excluded outlays for its key special projects, such as its first aircraft carrier and a new generation stealth-fighter jet. Li, a former foreign minister, said the world had nothing to fear since 'China is committed to the path of peaceful development and follows a national defence policy that is defensive in nature. 'You can see that we have 1.3 billion people with a large land area and a long coastline, but our outlays on defence are quite low compared to other major countries,' he said before today's opening of the NPC annual session, which will approve the budget. 'The limited military strength of China is solely for safeguarding its national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and will not pose a threat to any country,' he added. Li noted that China's military spending was mainly used to maintain the 2.3-million-strong People's Liberation Army - the world's biggest armed force - adding it also included the costs for 'research and development, procurement, repair, transportation and storage of weaponry, including new weapons'. Antony Wong Dong, president of the Macau-based International Military Association, offered a differing opinion, quoting sources close to the PLA's senior officials. Wong estimated China's defence budget could double the officially announced figure if spending on weapon development were included. 'Budgets for special projects like the aircraft carrier, the J-20 stealth fighter and other advanced weapons are put away in special funds that are directly allocated by the Ministry of Finance,' Wong said. Taiwanese military expert Arthur Ding Shu-fan agreed. 'I believe Beijing's actual defence budget is much more than the 670 billion yuan it announced today, because it wants to upgrade the PLA's weapons in the next five years to cope with Washington's greater involvement in the Asia-Pacific region,' Ding said. It was the first defence budget announced by Beijing since Washington launched a major push to boost its influence across the region last year - including increased naval forces in northern Australia - which was seen by Beijing as an attempt to counter its rising clout. Beijing's military growth is also set to unnerve its Asian neighbours, especially India, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, which have territorial disputes with China. Last month, a report released by global defence consultancy IHS Jane's predicted that Beijing would double its defence budget between last year and 2015 to US$238.2 billion. And it would even outpace the US$232.5 billion combined total of the region's next 12 biggest defence budgets, which includes Japan's. Tokyo has also questioned Beijing's military intentions. The Japanese government-backed National Institute for Defence Studies also published a report last month, warning that Beijing's assertiveness in the South China Sea could soon be replicated in neighbouring waters.