China says defense budget will top $145 billion, a record high

BEIJING -- China said on Sunday its defense budget this year will top $145 billion -- a record high. 

The announcement came as lawmakers gathered for the communist nation’s parliamentary pageant -- the National People’s Congress. 

While the NPC is a largely symbolic event, at it’s opening ceremony the premier presents China’s annual status report to the world and sets goals for the year ahead, much like the State of the Union address in the U.S. 

About 3,000 delegates -- the largest legislature in the world -- packed into the Great Hall of the People to hear premier Li Keqiang’s speech. He pledged to tackle China’s poor air quality, acknowledged the dangers of rising debt, and pegged GDP growth at 6.5 percent.

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. CBS Evening News

While President Donald Trump wasn’t mentioned by name, Mr. Li criticized the protectionist polices favored by Mr. Trump and said China remains committed to inclusive economic globalization. 

Mr. Trump has had a rocky relationship with China, after accusing the country of stealing millions of U.S. jobs and advocating for high tariffs on Chinese goods on the campaign trail. 

During a heavily choreographed press conference Saturday, CBS News asked where the U.S.-China relationship is heading. The question topic had to be pre-submitted and pre-approved. 

“We all hope American policy changes have positive effects,” said People’s Congress spokeswoman Fu Ying. “But if there are challenges, China will face them head-on.” 

Despite China’s economic challenges and at-times choking pollution, the biggest applause during the premier’s speech came when he announced that China would suspend roaming charges for calls made in another province.