China and Japan are two countries that have been culturally intertwined from as early as 400 AD. This relationship led to Japan adopting the Chinese writing system, the religion of Buddhism, similar political systems, as well as developing in matters of food, fashion, law, and more, under the influence of China. Although the countries are currently at peace, relations have remained somewhat tense over the last century. Today, we’ll compare the two nations in a hypothetical  military match-up, in this episode of The Infographics Show, China vs. Japan.
The USA has the world’s highest GDP of around 18.5 trillion dollars. It’s followed by China with a nominal GDP of 11.8 trillion dollars, and then Japan with a GDP of around 4.8 trillion dollars. The European Union would take second place, but the EU is a combination of 28 states. While China has experienced economic prosperity in recent years, it’s per capita GDP ranks low, globally in 70th place, at around 8,000 dollars, with Japan’s per capita GDP much higher at around 39,000 dollars. There is certainly less money to go around in China as it has the world’s largest population of 1.38 billion people, compared to Japan’s 126-plus million population.

In terms of military spending, China ranks third behind Russia and the military-minded USA, with a defense budget of around $147 billion, which is 2.1% of its GDP. Japan sits in 7th place on this list, with a $43 billion defense budget, which is 0.9% of its GDP. It’s also worth mentioning here that military pundits often state China spends much more on its military than the number that is reported, although China’s finance minister denied this secrecy in 2017, saying, “Let me be very clear, there is no such thing as opacity in China’s military spending.”

While Japan is regarded as being a military powerhouse, it’s number of military personnel is actually quite small, and very much inferior to the number of personnel the Chinese employ. Japan has around 250,000 active military personnel, with another 57,900 people acting as reserve personnel. China on the other hand has a massive 2,335,000 active frontline personnel and 2,300,000 active reserve personnel and paramilitary forces.

Japan’s personnel numbers may be small, but it’s protected with some of the world’s best military equipment. This includes 678 Tanks, 2,850 armored fighting vehicles, 202 self-propelled guns, 500 Towed-Artillery, and 99 multiple launch rocket systems. It’s large fleet of land artillery includes two machines often on the list of the world’s most advanced tanks, those being the Japanese-made Type 10 Main Battle Tank and Type 90 Main Battle Tank.

China, however, outguns Japan considerably with a total of 9,150 tanks, 4,788 AFVs, 1,710 SPGs, 6,246 Towed-Artillery, and 177 MLRSs. China’s Type 99 main battle tank is also highly rated, while the country also claims to have developed the most advanced tank in the world in its VT-4. China is not alone in making such boastful claims, with the USA and Russia also stating they have the best tanks in the M1A2 Abrams and the T-14 Armata, respectively. The VT-4 is as much a Chinese war machine as it is a profitable export, with Thailand placing a big order of the tanks, and other countries showing interest in buying.  

Both countries have strong air forces, with China owning around 2,900-plus aircraft and 206 attack helicopters. Japan has around 1,590 aircraft and 119 attack helicopters. In terms of strength, China’s aerial piece de resistance is its new Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter, which the air force, and some aviation experts, have stated can match America’s highly advanced Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35. China is also the only country to have bought the Russian beasts of the skies, the Sukhoi Su-35 multipurpose fighter. If you’ve seen our shows on these aircraft, you’ll know the Su-35 alone is an impeccable piece of engineering.

Japan would be hard pushed to equal such aerial military might, but the country is no slouch when it comes to aircraft. Japan is said to have created a veritable equal to China’s J-20, having joined the stealth leagues with its own Mitsubishi X-2. Japan has some formidable combat aircraft in its homemade Mitsubishi F-2, as well as American made F-4 Phantom IIs and F-15 Eagles. The country is also the proud owner of the USA’s highly touted F-35 Lightning II. Japan currently has one of these aircraft, but another 42 have been ordered. With this in mind, the two countries seem to be fairly evenly matched in terms of air force equipment, with Japanese imports being a major factor.

As far as naval power is concerned, a matter of significance given the history of naval invasions, and the fact that the countries are separated by a stretch of water. Both countries are credited with having very strong navies, although most analysts rank China above Japan.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy is said to have grown from a fairly weak outfit consisting of old ships to a formidable foe due to massive injections of money since China’s economic boom. The navy not only has well over 100,000 personnel, but has a large fleet of ships. This includes one aircraft carrier, 35 destroyers, 51 frigates, 35 corvettes, 31 mine warfare, 3 amphibious transports, 8 nuclear attack submarines, and around 50 conventional attack submarines.

By comparison, the Japanese navy consists of around 114 ships and 45,800 personnel, and according to, its fleet of 17 submarines is as good as any submarine fleet in the world. In total, Japan has 3 Aircraft Carriers, 43 Destroyers, 6 Coastal Defense Craft, 0 Frigates, 0 Corvettes, and 25 mine warfare.

A matter of importance is each country’s nuclear capabilities. Japan doesn’t have any nuclear weapons, although it is protected by the United States under the nuclear umbrella. The country is well known for its highly advanced industries and technology, and there is no doubt that it could develop its own nuclear weapons given its nuclear energy infrastructure. This has so far not happened due to a non-nuclear weapons policy, although being positioned so close to North Korea, many Japanese politicians and military officials have called for a change in nuclear weapons policy.

China, on the other hand, is one of 9 nations with nuclear weapons, with a considerable arsenal of around 260 warheads. It’s first nuclear test was in 1964. The number of weapons, however, and China’s development of nuclear weapons, has been a matter of wide speculation. For instance, a Georgetown University study claimed that China’s nuclear weapons arsenal is not in the hundreds, but possibly 3,000. The study claimed the weapons were hidden in secret underground tunnels. The prospect of any kind of conflict involving these weapons of mass destruction, however, is highly unlikely.

We cannot forget that almost every single tank, aircraft, or naval unit needs fuel to operate. China currently consumes approximately 12 million (11,968,000) barrels of oil a day, but it only produces about 4 million (3,980,000) barrels daily. That said, it does have 25 billion barrels in reserves. Japan, on the other hand, consumes 4.15 million barrels of oil a day, but it only produces a meager 3,900 barrels daily. Worse yet, it only has 44 million barrels of oil in reserves.

So, who do you think has a stronger military? China or Japan? Let us know why in the comments! And be sure sure to check out our military comparisons playlist. 







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