10 May 2014

The Budget This Time: Taking the Measure of China’s Defense Spending

Andrew S. Erickson and Adam P. Liff, “The Budget This Time: Taking the Measure of China’s Defense Spending,” ASAN Forum 2.2 (March-April 2014).

Early last month, China announced its projected 2014 defense budget of 808 billion yuan (roughly USD 132 billion), a 12.2 percent increase over the previous year. This continues the double-digit spending increases in nominal terms since 1989 (2010 was the exception, most likely because of priorities adjusted in the wake of the global financial crisis). China’s rapid rise in national power across the board and the pace and scale of its increasing investment in the PLA, together with its limited willingness to release a breakdown of how this money is spent, ensure that the annual announcement of its official defense budget for the forthcoming fiscal year attracts considerable attention. Annual multibillion-dollar increases suggest strong interest in furthering core strategic objectives, such as upholding island and maritime sovereignty claims in the East and South China Seas.

By any measure, China already has the world’s second largest defense budget. While US aggregate military spending remains much higher, unlike the globally distributed US military the PLA is focused primarily on its immediate region, while seeking gradually to project military power globally. When thinking about a possible conflict on China’s periphery a comparison of aggregate defense budgets is not especially useful—the potential flashpoints are much closer to China. Fundamentally different US and Chinese military force postures and priorities likewise limit the usefulness of direct comparisons of force structures for assessing relative capabilities for peacetime influence or scenarios in a military conflict: in the Yellow, East, and South China seas and the airspace above them. The PLA has acquired growing numbers of increasingly capable weapons with this proximate theater in mind, as it strives to strengthen its ability to wield them effectively to uphold its unresolved island and maritime claims if the leadership judges it necessary to do so. Yet critical uncertainties remain concerning Beijing’s capabilities and intentions. While China’s limited budget transparency leaves much unknown, this article analyzes what is known about its military spending and suggests some implications.

Additional sources:

China’s Military Spending: At the Double,” The Economist, 15 March 2014.

Edward Wong, “China Announces 12.2% Increase in Military Budget,” New York Times, 5 March 2014.

Andrew S. Erickson and Adam P. Liff, “Full Steam Ahead: China’s Ever-Increasing Military Budget,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 5 March 2014.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Near-Seas Challenges,” The National Interest 129 (January-February 2014): 60-66.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission,” Panel II: “Inputs to China’s Military Modernization,” “China’s Military Modernization and its Implications for the United States” hearing, Washington, DC, 30 January 2014.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Naval Modernization: Implications and Recommendations,” Testimony before the House Armed Services CommitteeSeapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, “U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategic Considerations Related to PLA Naval Forces” hearing, Washington, DC, 11 December 2013. Click here for oral statement.

Adam P. Liff and Andrew S. Erickson, “Demystifying China’s Defence Spending: Less Mysterious in the Aggregate,”The China Quarterly 216 (December 2013): 805-30.

Nathaniel Austin, “Lifting the Shroud on China’s Defense Spending: Trends, Drivers, and Implications—An Interview with Andrew S. Erickson and Adam P. Liff,” Policy Q&A, National Bureau of Asian Research, 16 May 2013.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Defense Budget: A Richer Nation Builds a Stronger Army,” Inaugural Presentation in “China Reality Check” Speaker Series, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, DC, 8 April 2012.

Andrew S. Erickson and Adam P. Liff, “China’s Military Development, Beyond the Numbers,” The Diplomat, 12 March 2013.

Andrew S. Erickson and Adam P. Liff, “A Player, but No Superpower,” Foreign Policy, 7 March 2013.
Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Military Budget Bump: What it Means,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 5 March 2013.