The Increased And Increasing Chinese Military

More on matters that don’t appear to be as urgent as they are.

From the DoD’s annual report on Chinese military capability, “In 2004, Hu Jintao articulated a mission statement for the armed forces titled, the ‘Historic Missions of the Armed Forces in the New Period of the New Century.'”

What’s mission number one? Defense of the motherland? Securing borders peacefully? Modernization of weaponry? Training of troops? None of these.

Try, “Provide an important guarantee of strength for the party to consolidate its ruling position.” Skeptics and appeasers will say he doesn’t mean what he says. The ghosts of Tiananmen will know the words are true.

Bullet number two: “Provide a strong security guarantee for safeguarding the period of strategic opportunity for national development.” Is that a long way to say lebensraum? And just what is the “period of strategic opportunity”? Does it have an expiration date?

World peace is on the list, but it doesn’t even place, coming in a distant fourth.

Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun ritually condemned the DoD report, saying, “The report does not hold water as it severely distorted the facts.”

Regardless, it is clear that China’s military is growing. Is has reached adolescence, voraciously consuming budgets faster than teenagers eat pizzas.

The standard picture is to show spending as a percent of GDP:

Chinese military spending percent GDP

One difficulty is that this is a ratio, the denominator of which is the GDP itself, which in China is expanding rapidly. Notice that the 2011 figure is an estimate based on supposing a heavy increase in the Chinese economy.

This means that pictures which show spending as a percent of GDP in an economy that are bubble-like will tend to underplay the true amount of spending. Pictures like this can also mask increases in spending, as long as the increase in spending is at a lower rate of the increase in GDP—which is the case here.

We are told the military spending for 2011 will increase, but that it will increase at a slower rate than it did from 2009 to 2010.

As an amusing aside, the New York Times writes that this increase is a slow down in spending. Why? Probably because the Times is so used to writing that increases which aren’t accelerating are “decreasing” that it cannot think in other terms.

The second, and irremovable, problem is that the numerator uses the number provided by the Politburo. Everybody believes this to be an underestimate.

To help fix that, here’s another look, this time per capita (known) military spending :

Chinese military spending per capita

The increase—which is an increase and not a “slow down”—now appears to be an increase.

The denominator here is population, which is rigorously controlled by the Chinese one-child policy. For completeness, population is shown at the bottom of the post. The track is fairly smooth: the country is now only adding millions a year. Curiously, the deceleration appears to have stopped four years ago. A relaxation of the bureaucratic oversight of the one-child policy? Or just plain bad numbers?

Spending per capita increased in 2000 and again in 2005. It perhaps slowed in 2010, though this may reflect a change in accounting or the deceleration of population increase.

Anyway you slice it, China’s military is expanding rapidly. As reported last week, China is still conducting test flights of its prototype J-20 stealth fighter, is on the market for Soviet Russian T-50 fighters, and rolled out its newish aircraft carrier, which it will use to menace Taiwan and the Philippines.

The Philippines, incidentally, beefed up its naval presence recently, with a garage-sale purchase of an American Coast Guard cutter (the USGC Hamilton, as was). They did this because China claims its terroritorial [sic?] waters run right up the shores of the PI. President Aquino begs to differ.

We’ll do more on the DoD report another day, but for now, read this report on our potential non-sale of F-16s to Taiwan.


Chinese population


  1. Rob

    Of course, the 2011 US per capita defense expenditure, converted to Yuan, is about 13,890. And whose military is more “adventurous?”

  2. ken

    See, that spending per-capita IS accelerating at a lesser rate–a “deceleration” of sorts….and probably indicative of, in addition to the factors noted, increased emphasis (and effectiveness of) espionage on all fronts. When one can simply steal the know-how of others one can reduce R&D accordingly, and still get ahead. THAT is something China has gotten good at, and no numbers analysis of the sort here (or pretty much anywhere) will account for that.

    At least aircraft carriers are big targets and in any altercation where they’re a truly serious target are unlikely to survive beyond a week, if that.

    The real economic fact remains–China’s population & relative undeveloped status unencumbered by union rules, OSHA rules, etc. rules, etc. puts it in a position such as the US was in the late 1700s, and much like Great Britain long before that, and Spain before that. The ebb & flow of ecomic power & might derives significantly from the ability to grow….and China has advantages there in spades. We are witnesses to another of many such declines in a country’s (the US in this case) world leadership & influence due to some very basic economic realities relative to a new upstart on the world stage.

  3. JJD

    It may be a little comforting to contemplate what a Wal-Mart cruise missile, submarine, or stealth fighter would be like.

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