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China's NPC looks to Hong Kong, defense spending

China's biggest political meeting opened for its annual session on Friday, where it is expected to pass a sweeping overhaul of Hong Kong's electoral system.

Chinese lawmakers are expected to delay elections for the city's legislature by another year to September 2022, according to local media.

It's a move that will boost China's effort to ensure those they deem "patriots" are put in charge of the city, and likely to crush any remaining democratic hopes for the global financial hub.

Many high-profile pro-democracy politicians and activists are already in jail or in exile after authorities cracked down on the city's mass anti-government protests in 2019, and imposed a sweeping national security law last year.

A senior Chinese lawmaker says the NPC plans to expand an electoral committee that chooses Hong Kong's leader, and give it powers to pick many of the city's legislators as well.

The NPC also unveiled a relatively mild defense budget for the year, a rise of around 7% from 2020.

That's despite challenges on several fronts, ranging from heightened tensions with Taiwan to U.S. missions around Chinese-occupied islands in the disputed South China Sea, and an ongoing border dispute with India.

China's strategic rivalry with the United States is also expected to take centre stage at the conference.

A London-based economics research centre predicts China will leapfrog the United States as the world's biggest economy in 2028, five years earlier than previously forecast.