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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2013

Adam P. Liff*
Princeton University.
Andrew S. Erickson
US Naval War College.
Email: (corresponding author)


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.

Copyright © The China Quarterly 2013 

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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.


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