The China Quarterly


Demystifying China's Defence Spending: Less Mysterious in the Aggregate   *

Adam P. Liffa1 c1 and Andrew S. Ericksona2

a1 Princeton University.

a2 US Naval War College.


China's limited transparency concerning its defence spending harms strategic trust, but foreign analysts often lose sight of important realities. Specific details remain unclear, but China's defence spending overall is no mystery – it supports PLA modernization and personnel development as well as its announced objectives of securing China's homeland and asserting control over contested territorial and maritime claims, with a focus on the Near Seas (the Yellow, East, and South China seas). This article offers greater context and perspective for Chinese and Western discussions of China's rise and concomitant military build-up through a nuanced and comprehensive assessment of its defence spending and military transparency.

(Online publication March 25 2013)


  • China;
  • defence spending;
  • military budget;
  • rising powers;
  • People's Liberation Army;
  • PLA


c1 Email: (corresponding author)

Adam P. Liff is a doctoral candidate in Princeton University's department of politics. He is also a Minerva Scholar affiliated with the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC).

Andrew S. Erickson is an associate professor in the US Naval War College's China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). He is also an Associate in Research at Harvard University's John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies.


*  Adam Liff thanks the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation for generous research travel support. The authors thank Richard Bitzinger, Dennis Blasko, Felix Boecking, Amy Chang, Patrick Chovanec, Thomas Christensen, Roger Cliff, Gabriel Collins, Abraham Denmark, Arthur Ding, M. Taylor Fravel, Nan Li, Darren Lim, James Mulvenon, Barry Naughton, William Norris, Michael O'Hanlon, Suzanne Patrick, Robert Ross, Sean Sullivan, one anonymous American expert and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts. They owe special thanks to Yunzhuang Zhang and Nancy Hearst for suggesting useful Chinese-language sources. Unless explicitly cited otherwise, the views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors.