Hong Kong CNN  — 

When China announced a 6.6% increase in its military budget last week while cutting substantially in other areas, analysts said it made one thing clear: Beijing senses an increasing security threat and is giving the People’s Liberation Army the military muscle to deal with it.

President Xi Jinping followed up the multibillion dollar increase with an instruction to the military to “think about worst-case scenarios, scale up training and battle preparedness … and resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests,” according to state news agency Xinhua.

The extra pledge of support for the PLA comes as China suffers its worst economic downturn in recent memory due to the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.

2020 will mark the first time in decades that China has not set a growth target for its economy. Last year, Beijing targeted growth in the range of 6% to 6.5%. GDP grew 6.1%, its slowest pace in nearly 30 years.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic and a weekslong economic shutdown throughout much of China. GDP shrank 6.8% in the first quarter, the first contraction Beijing has reported since 1976.

As the economy contracted, external pressures were mounting.

The US military was boosting challenges to Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, including back-to-back naval Freedom of Navigation exercises in April and flights of B-1 bombers, the heaviest in the US Air Force inventory, originating from both Guam and the US mainland.

And when spending numbers for 2020 were announced last Friday, Beijing’s priorities were immediately clear.

The military shares in the pain – its budget increase was the lowest in decades – but the PLA’s pain was minor compared to the blows dealt to other areas of China’s government.