March 4 (UPI) -- China's parliament on Saturday announced the country will increase its military spending by 7 percent in 2017.
Ahead of Sunday's annual National People's Congress, parliament announced China's smallest increase to its military spending in seven years and the second consecutive year below 10 percent.
Premier Li Keqiang will announce the precise figure for the country's military spending when he addresses the National People's Congress.
National People's Congress spokeswoman Fu Ying said China's total military spending will account for 1.3 percent of its projected gross domestic product in 2017.
"We have to guard against external forces from getting involved in our territorial disputes," she told CNN. "The strengthening of China's [military] capabilities help preserve peace and stability in the region, not the opposite."
China's defense spending increased by 7.6 percent to $146 billion in 2016 after the budget had regularly increased by double digits every year since 2010.
Beijing has focused on the country's naval capabilities, building artificial islands on reefs in waters with disputed ownership by other countries in the South China Sea.
The country said it has no plans to militarize the islands, but defended its right to build so-called necessary military facilities for defensive purposes.
Fu said the nation's defense plans supported "dialogue for peaceful resolutions, while at the same time, we need to possess the ability to defend our sovereignty and interests."