China said Sunday it would boost its defense spending by 11.2% in 2012, slightly less than last year’s increase but still enough to aggravate the concerns that have prompted the U.S. to refocus its defense policy on the Asian-Pacific region.

The slightly slower growth in military expenditure—spending increased 12.7% in 2011—appeared to be designed to ease worries about China’s rapidly expanding arsenal and its increasingly robust diplomacy in the region, while still satisfying Chinese generals eager to continue modernizing the armed forces.

The latest in a series of double-digit rises in defense spending was revealed on the eve of an annual meeting of the National People’s Congress or NPC—China’s parliament—which is being closely watched this year as it comes a few months before a once-a-decade Communist Party leadership change.

A substantial increase was widely expected, partly because civilian party leaders are keen to ensure the support of the military, an increasingly powerful and vocal political constituency, ahead of the succession in October or November, political analysts say.

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