05 March 2016

The Limits of Growth: Economic Headwinds Inform China’s Latest Military Budget

Andrew S. Erickson and Adam P. Liff, “The Limits of Growth: Economic Headwinds Inform China’s Latest Military Budget,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 5 March 2016.

With an official defense budget increase of 7.6% to 954 billion yuan ($147 billion) announced today, Beijing’s quest to restore China’s historic “greatness” and to attain international status as a military power commensurate with its economic standing continues. Yet with GDP growth slowing and social and demographic headwinds mounting, Chinese leaders face increasingly difficult tradeoffs concerning how to allocate government largesse.

With Beijing’s 2016 official defense budget, it is clear that even military spending is not immune to China’s economic and fiscal realities. Advance reports that this year’s official budget would entail an increase of as much as 20% proved significantly off-the-mark. So, what’s in a number? Nothing short of this: Beijing’s latest defense spending figure provides further evidence that it is determined to avoid succumbing to Soviet-style military overextension – yet it remains committed to enhancing capabilities to further its priorities, especially vis-à-vis contested island and maritime claims in the East and South China Seas. …