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A New Estimate of China’s Military Expenditure

A New Estimate of China’s Military Expenditure
Publisher: SIPRI
January, 2021

China publishes a national defence budget each year. In 2019 it reached 1.2 trillion yuan (US$175 billion). However, this figure does not account for all of China’s military spending. To provide a more accurate representation of China’s spending, SIPRI’s estimate—based on an analysis made in 1999—includes other items in addition to the official defence budget.

Given China’s accelerating military modernization and reforms in recent years, the existing estimate of China’s military spending deserves a reassessment. This SIPRI report provides a comprehensive new analysis of the financial resources China dedicates to military purposes. Using publicly available sources in both English and Chinese, the report presents a new estimate of Chinese military expenditure.

The new estimate—1660 billion yuan ($240 billion) in 2019—is around 142 billion yuan ($21 billion) less than the old SIPRI estimate. Although the new approach to estimating Chinese military expenditure improves on the old method, limited public transparency in budgeting on specific categories is still a cause of concern. Future research should focus on publicly available Chinese-language sources as there is still scope to improve the precision of the new estimate.


1. Introduction

2. The need to measure military expenditure: The case of China

3. The components of SIPRI’s estimate of Chinese military expenditure

4. The new estimate of Chinese military expenditure

5. Conclusions


Dr Nan Tian is a Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.
Fei Su is a Researcher with SIPRI’s China and Asia Security Programme.