The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) is the armed forces of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Communist Party of China (CPC). The PLA consists of five professional service branches: the Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, and the Strategic Support Force.
The PLA is the world's largest military force, with a strength of approximately 2,285,000 personnel, 0.18% of the country's population. It is the fastest modernising military power in the world, with significant defense and increasing power projection capabilities. Recently, it has been rapidly developing and commissioning new arsenals, with numerous technological advancements and breakthroughs. It boasts the second largest defence budget in the world, although many authorities – including SIPRI and the U.S. Department of Defense – argue that China does not report its real level of military spending, which is allegedly much higher than the official budget.
In September 2015, Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and the commander-in-chief of the PLA, announced a reduction of the number of military personnel by 300,000: from 2.3 to 2 million. The PLA's insignia consists of a roundel with a red star bearing the Chinese characters for Eight One, referring to the Nanchang uprising which began on August 1, 1927.
The PLA is under the command of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the CPC. It is legally obliged to follow the principle of civilian control of the military, although in practical terms this principle has been implemented in such a way as to ensure the PLA is under the absolute control of the Communist Party of China. Its commander in chief is the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (usually the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China). The Ministry of National Defense, which operates under the State Council, does not exercise any authority over the PLA and is far less powerful than the CMC. A system of political officers embedded within the military ensures party authority over the armed forces so that the primary role of the Ministry of Defense is that of a liaison office with foreign militaries rather than a commanding authority. The political and military leadership have made a concerted effort to create a professional military force, the duties of which are restricted to national defence and to the provision of assistance in domestic economic construction and emergency relief. This conception of the role of the PLA requires the promotion of specialised officers who can understand modern weaponry and handle combined arms operations. Units around the country are assigned to one of five Theater commands by geographical location.
Military service is compulsory by law; however, compulsory military service in China has never been enforced due to large numbers of military and paramilitary personnel. In times of national emergency, the People's Armed Police and the People's Liberation Army militia act as a reserve and support element for the PLAGF.
The PLA on 1 August 2017 marked the 90th year anniversary since its establishment, before the big anniversary it mounted its biggest parade yet and the first outside of Beijing, held in the Zhurihe Training Base in the Northern Theater Command (within the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region), the first time it had ever been done to mark PLA Day as past parades had already been on 1 October, National Day of the PRC.
|Chinese People's Liberation Army|
Emblem of the People's Liberation Army (top), PLA flag (bottom). The characters are "8 1", referencing August 1.
"Serve the People"
|Founded||1 August 1927 (Nanchang uprising)|
|Current form||15 August 1945|
|Service branches|| PLA Ground Force
PLA Air Force
PLA Rocket Force
PLA Strategic Support Force
|Headquarters||National Defense Ministry Headquarters, Beijing|
|Chairman of the
Central Military Commission (commander-in-chief)
|1st-ranked Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission||Air Force General Xu Qiliang|
|2nd-ranked Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission||General Zhang Youxia|
|Minister of National Defense||General Wei Fenghe|
|Chief of the Joint Staff Department||General Li Zuocheng|
|Conscription||Compulsory by law, but usually not enforced|
|Active personnel||2,000,000 active (2018)|
|Reserve personnel||2,300,000 reserve (2018)|
|Budget||US$175 billion(2018) (official budget)
US$228 billion(2018) (according to SIPRI) (ranked 2nd)
|Percent of GDP||1.9% (2018)|
|History||History of the PLA
Modernization of the PLA
Historical Chinese wars and battles
Air force ranks
|People's Liberation Army|
|Literal meaning||"Chinese People's Liberation Army"|
The People's Liberation Army was founded on 1 August 1927 during the Nanchang uprising when troops of the Kuomintang (KMT) rebelled under the leadership of Zhu De, He Long, Ye Jianying and Zhou Enlai after the massacre of the Communists by Chiang Kai-shek. They were then known as the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, or simply the Red Army. Between 1934 and 1935, the Red Army survived several campaigns led against it by Chiang Kai-Shek and engaged in the Long March.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945, the Communist military forces were nominally integrated into the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China forming two main units known as the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army. During this time, these two military groups primarily employed guerrilla tactics, generally avoiding large-scale battles with the Japanese with some exceptions while at the same time consolidating their ground by absorbing nationalist troops and paramilitary forces behind Japanese lines into their forces. After the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the Communist Party merged the Eighth Route Army and New Fourth Army, renaming the new million-strong force the "People's Liberation Army". They eventually won the Chinese Civil War, establishing the People's Republic of China in 1949. The PLA then saw a huge reorganisation with the establishment of the Air Force leadership structure in November 1949 followed by the Navy leadership the following April. In 1950, the leadership structures of the artillery, armoured troops, air defence troops, public security forces, and worker–soldier militias were also established. The chemical warfare defence forces, the railroad forces, the communications forces, and the strategic forces, as well as other separate forces (like engineering and construction, logistics and medical services), were established later on, all these depended on the leadership of the Communist Party and the National People's Congress via the Central Military Commission (and until 1975 the National Defense Council).
During the 1950s, the PLA with Soviet assistance began to transform itself from a peasant army into a modern one. Part of this process was the reorganisation that created thirteen military regions in 1955. The PLA also contained many former National Revolutionary Army units and generals who had defected to the PLA. Ma Hongbin and his son Ma Dunjing (1906–1972) were the only two Muslim generals who led a Muslim unit, the 81st corps, to ever serve in the PLA. Han Youwen, a Salar Muslim general, also defected to the PLA. In November 1950, some units of the PLA under the name of the People's Volunteer Army intervened in the Korean War as United Nations forces under General Douglas MacArthur approached the Yalu River. Under the weight of this offensive, Chinese forces drove MacArthur's forces out of North Korea and captured Seoul, but were subsequently pushed back south of Pyongyang north of the 38th Parallel. The war also served as a catalyst for the rapid modernisation of the PLAAF. In 1962, the PLA ground force also fought India in the Sino-Indian War, achieving all objectives.
Prior to the Cultural Revolution, military region commanders tended to remain in their posts for long periods of time. As the PLA took a stronger role in politics, this began to be seen as somewhat of a threat to the party's (or, at least, civilian) control of the military. The longest-serving military region commanders were Xu Shiyou in the Nanjing Military Region (1954–74), Yang Dezhi in the Jinan Military Region (1958–74), Chen Xilian in the Shenyang Military Region (1959–73), and Han Xianchu in the Fuzhou Military Region (1960–74). The establishment of a professional military force equipped with modern weapons and doctrine was the last of the Four Modernizations announced by Zhou Enlai and supported by Deng Xiaoping. In keeping with Deng's mandate to reform, the PLA has demobilised millions of men and women since 1978 and has introduced modern methods in such areas as recruitment and manpower, strategy, and education and training. In 1979, the PLA fought Vietnam over a border skirmish in the Sino-Vietnamese War where both sides claimed victory.
During the Sino-Soviet split, strained relations between China and Soviet Russia resulted in bloody border clashes and mutual backing of each other's enemies. China and Afghanistan had neutral relations with each other during the King's rule. When the pro-Soviet Afghan Communists seized power in Afghanistan in 1978, relations between China and the Afghan communists quickly turned hostile. The Afghan pro-Soviet communists supported China's enemies in Vietnam and blamed China for supporting Afghan anti-communist militants. China responded to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by supporting the Afghan mujahideen and ramping up their military presence near Afghanistan in Xinjiang. China acquired military equipment from the United States to defend itself from Soviet attack.
The People's Liberation Army Ground Force trained and supported the Afghan Mujahidin during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, moving its training camps for the mujahideen from Pakistan into China itself. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of anti-aircraft missiles, rocket launchers and machine guns were given to the Mujahidin by the Chinese. Chinese military advisors and army troops were also present with the Mujahidin during training.
In the 1980s, China shrunk its military considerably to free up resources for economic development, resulting in the relative decline in resources devoted to the PLA. Following the PLA's suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, ideological correctness was temporarily revived as the dominant theme in Chinese military affairs. Reform and modernisation have today resumed their position as the PLA's primary objectives, although the armed forces' political loyalty to the CPC has remained a leading concern. Another area of concern to the political leadership was the PLA's involvement in civilian economic activities. These activities were thought to have impacted PLA readiness and has led the political leadership to attempt to divest the PLA from its non-military business interests.
Beginning in the 1980s, the PLA tried to transform itself from a land-based power centred on a vast ground force to a smaller, more mobile, high-tech one capable of mounting operations beyond its borders. The motivation for this was that a massive land invasion by Russia was no longer seen as a major threat, and the new threats to China are seen to be a declaration of independence by Taiwan, possibly with assistance from the United States, or a confrontation over the Spratly Islands. In 1985, under the leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the CMC, the PLA changed from being constantly prepared to "hit early, strike hard and to fight a nuclear war" to developing the military in an era of peace. The PLA reoriented itself to modernization, improving its fighting ability, and to become a world-class force. Deng Xiaoping stressed that the PLA needed to focus more on quality rather than on quantity. The decision of the Chinese government in 1985 to reduce the size of the military by one million was completed by 1987. Staffing in military leadership was cut by about 50 percent. During the Ninth Five Year Plan (1996–2000) the PLA was reduced by a further 500,000. The PLA had also been expected to be reduced by another 200,000 by 2005. The PLA has focused on increasing mechanisation and informatization so as to be able to fight a high-intensity war.
Former CMC chairman Jiang Zemin in 1990 called on the military to "meet political standards, be militarily competent, have a good working style, adhere strictly to discipline, and provide vigorous logistic support" (Chinese: 部队要做到政治合格、军事过硬、作风优良、纪律严明、保障有力; pinyin: bùduì yào zuò dào zhèngzhì hégé, jūnshì guòyìng, zuòfēng yōuliáng, jìlǜ yánmíng, bǎozhàng yǒulì). The 1991 Gulf War provided the Chinese leadership with a stark realisation that the PLA was an oversized, almost-obsolete force. The possibility of a militarised Japan has also been a continuous concern to the Chinese leadership since the late 1990s. In addition, China's military leadership has been reacting to and learning from the successes and failures of the American military during the Kosovo War, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the Iraqi insurgency. All these lessons inspired China to transform the PLA from a military based on quantity to one based on quality. Chairman Jiang Zemin officially made a "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA) part of the official national military strategy in 1993 to modernise the Chinese armed forces. A goal of the RMA is to transform the PLA into a force capable of winning what it calls "local wars under high-tech conditions" rather than a massive, numbers-dominated ground-type war. Chinese military planners call for short decisive campaigns, limited in both their geographic scope and their political goals. In contrast to the past, more attention is given to reconnaissance, mobility, and deep reach. This new vision has shifted resources towards the navy and air force. The PLA is also actively preparing for space warfare and cyber-warfare.
For the past 10 to 20 years, the PLA has acquired some advanced weapons systems from Russia, including Sovremenny class destroyers, Sukhoi Su-27 and Sukhoi Su-30 aircraft, and Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines. It has also started to produce several new classes of destroyers and frigates including the Type 052D class guided missile destroyer. In addition, the PLAAF has designed its very own Chengdu J-10 fighter aircraft and a new stealth fighter, the Chengdu J-20. The PLA launched the new Jin class nuclear submarines on 3 December 2004 capable of launching nuclear warheads that could strike targets across the Pacific Ocean and have two aircraft carriers, one commissioned in 2012 and a second launched in 2017.
In 2015, the PLA formed new units including the PLA Ground Force, the PLA Rocket Force and the PLA Strategic Support Force.
The People's Republic of China has sent the PLA to various hotspots as part of China's role as a prominent member of the United Nations. Such units usually include engineers and logistical units and members of the paramilitary People's Armed Police and have been deployed as part of peacekeeping operations in Lebanon, the Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Haiti, and more recently, Mali and South Sudan.
The state military system upholds the principle of the CPC's absolute leadership over the armed forces. The party and the State jointly established the CMC that carries out the task of supreme military leadership over the armed forces. The 1954 Constitution stated that the State President directs the armed forces and made the State President the chairman of the Defense Commission. The Defense Commission is an advisory body and does not hold any actual power over the armed forces. On 28 September 1954, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party re-established the CMC as the commanding organ of the PLA. From that time onward, the current system of a joint system of party and state leadership of the military was established. The Central Committee of the Communist Party leads in all military affairs. The State President directs the state military forces and the development of the military forces which is managed by the State Council.
To ensure the absolute leadership of the Communist Party over the armed forces, every level of party committee in the military forces implements the principles of democratic centralism. In addition, division-level and higher units establish political commissars and political organisations, ensuring that the branch organisations are in line. These systems combined the party organisation with the military organisation to achieve the party's leadership and administrative leadership. This is seen as the key guarantee to the absolute leadership of the party over the military.
In October 2014 the PLA Daily reminded readers of the Gutian Congress, which stipulated the basic principle of the Party controlling the military, and called for vigilance as "[f]oreign hostile forces preach the nationalization and de-politicization of the military, attempting to muddle our minds and drag our military out from under the Party's flag."
The leadership by the CPC is a fundamental principle of the Chinese military command system. The PLA reports not to the State Council but rather to two Central Military Commissions, one belonging to the state and one belonging to the party.
In practice, the two central military commissions usually do not contradict each other because their membership is usually identical. Often, the only difference in membership between the two occurs for a few months every five years, during the period between a party congress, when Party CMC membership changes, and the next ensuing National People's Congress, when the state CMC changes. The CMC carries out its responsibilities as authorised by the Constitution and National Defense Law.
The leadership of each type of military force is under the leadership and management of the corresponding part of the Central Military Commission of the CPC Central Committee. Forces under each military branch or force such as the subordinate forces, academies and schools, scientific research and engineering institutions and logistical support organisations are also under the leadership of the CMC. This arrangement has been especially useful as China over the past several decades has moved increasingly towards military organisations composed of forces from more than one military branch. In September 1982, to meet the needs of modernisation and to improve co-ordination in the command of forces including multiple service branches and to strengthen unified command of the military, the CMC ordered the abolition of the leadership organisation of the various military branches. Today, the PLA has air force, navy and second artillery leadership organs.
In 1986, the People's Armed Forces Department, except in some border regions, was placed under the joint leadership of the PLA and the local authorities. Although the local party organisations paid close attention to the People's Armed Forces Department, as a result of some practical problems, the CMC decided that from 1 April 1996, the People's Armed Forces Department would once again fall under the jurisdiction of the PLA.
According to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, the CMC is composed of the following: the Chairman, Vice-Chairmen and Members. The Chairman of the Central Military Commission has overall responsibility for the commission.
In December 1982, the fifth National People's Congress revised the state constitution to state that the State Central Military Commission leads all the armed forces of the state. The chairman of the State CMC is chosen and removed by the full NPC while the other members are chosen by the NPC standing committee. However, the CMC of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party remained the party organisation that directly commands the military and all the other armed forces.
In actual practice, the party CMC, after consultation with the democratic parties, proposes the names of the State CMC members of the NPC so that these people after going through the legal processes can be elected by the NPC to the State Central Military Commission. That is to say, that the CMC of the Central Committee and the CMC of the State are one group and one organisation. However, looking at it organizationally, these two CMCs are subordinate to two different systems – the party system and the state system. Therefore, the armed forces are under the absolute leadership of the Communist Party and are also the armed forces of the state. This is a unique joint leadership system that reflects the origin of the PLA as the military branch of the Communist Party. It only became the national military when the People's Republic of China was established in 1949.
By convention, the chairman and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission are civilian members of the Communist Party of China, but they are not necessarily the heads of the civilian government. Both Jiang Zemin and Deng Xiaoping retained the office of chairman even after relinquishing their other positions. All of the other members of the CMC are uniformed active military officials. Unlike other nations, the Minister of National Defense is not the head of the military, but is usually a vice-chairman of the CMC.
In 2012, to attempt to reduce corruption at the highest rungs of the leadership of the Chinese military, the commission banned the service of alcohol at military receptions.
On 1 January 2016, The Central Military Commission (CMC) released a guideline on deepening national defense and military reform, about a month after CMC Chairman Xi Jinping called for an overhaul of the military administration and command system at a key meeting.
On 11 January 2016, the PLA created a joint staff directly attached to the Central Military Commission (CMC), the highest leadership organization in the military. The previous four general headquarters of the PLA were disbanded and completely reformed. They were divided into 15 functional departments instead — a significant expansion from the domain of the General Office, which is now a single department within the Central Military Commission .
Included among the 15 departments are three commissions. The CMC Discipline Inspection Commission is charged with rooting out corruption.
Until 2016, China's territory was divided into seven military regions, but they were reorganized into five theater commands in early 2016. This reflects a change in their concept of operations from primarily ground-oriented to mobile and coordinated movement of all services. The five new theatre commands are:
The military reforms have also introduced a major change in the areas of responsibilities. Rather than separately commanding their own troops, service branches are now primarily responsible for administrative tasks (like equipping and maintaining the troops). It is the theater commands now that have the command authority. This should, in theory, facilitate the implementation of joint operations across all service branches.
Coordination with civilian national security groups such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is achieved primarily by the leading groups of the Communist Party of China. Particularly important are the leading groups on foreign affairs, which include those dealing with Taiwan.
The PLA encompasses five main service branches: the Ground Force, the Navy, the Air Force, the Rocket Force, and the Strategic Support Force. Following the 200,000 troop reduction announced in 2003, the total strength of the PLA has been reduced from 2.5 million to just under 2.3 million. Further reforms will see an additional 300,000 personnel reduction from its current strength of 2.28 million personnel. The reductions will come mainly from non-combat ground forces, which will allow more funds to be diverted to naval, air, and strategic missile forces. This shows China's shift from ground force prioritisation to emphasising air and naval power with high-tech equipment for offensive roles over disputed coastal territories.
In recent years, the PLA has paid close attention to the performance of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. As well as learning from the success of the US military in network-centric warfare, joint operations, C4ISR, and hi-tech weaponry, the PLA is also studying unconventional tactics that could be used to exploit the vulnerabilities of a more technologically advanced enemy. This has been reflected in the two parallel guidelines for the PLA ground forces development. While speeding up the process of introducing new technology into the force and retiring the older equipment, the PLA has also placed an emphasis on asymmetric warfare, including exploring new methods of using existing equipment to defeat a technologically superior enemy.
In addition to the four main service branches, the PLA is supported by two paramilitary organisations: the People's Armed Police (including the China Coast Guard) and the Militia (including the maritime militia).
The PLA has the world's largest ground force, currently totalling some 1.6 million personnel, or about 60 percent of the PLA's total manpower of 2.3 million. The ground forces are divided among the five theatre commands as named above. In times of crisis, the PLA Ground Force will be reinforced by numerous reserve and paramilitary units. The PLAGF reserve component has about 510,000 personnel divided into 30 infantry and 12 anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) divisions. Two amphibious mechanised divisions were also established in Nanjing and Guangzhou MR. At least 40 percent of PLA divisions and brigades are now mechanised or armoured, almost double the percentage before the troop reduction.
While much of the PLA Ground Force was being reduced over the past few years, technology-intensive elements such as special operations forces (SOF), army aviation, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and electronic warfare units have all been rapidly expanded. The latest operational doctrine of the PLA ground forces highlights the importance of information technology, electronic and information warfare, and long-range precision strikes in future warfare. The older generation telephone/radio-based command, control, and communications (C3) systems are being replaced by an integrated battlefield information networks featuring local/wide-area networks (LAN/WAN), satellite communications, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based surveillance and reconnaissance systems, and mobile command and control centres.
On 1 January 2016, as part of Military reforms, China created for the first time a separate headquarters for the ground forces. China's ground forces have never had their own headquarters until now. Previously, the People's Liberation Army's Four General Departments served as the de facto army headquarters, functioning together as the equivalent of a joint staff, to which the navy, air force and the newly renamed Rocket Force would report.
Until the early 1990s, the navy performed a subordinate role to the PLA Land Forces. Since then it has undergone rapid modernisation. The 255,000 strong People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is organised into three major fleets: the North Sea Fleet headquartered at Qingdao, the East Sea Fleet headquartered at Ningbo, and the South Sea Fleet headquartered in Zhanjiang. Each fleet consists of a number of surface ship, submarine, naval air force, coastal defence, and marine units.
The navy includes a 10,000 strong Marine Corps (organised into two brigades), a 26,000 strong Naval Air Force operating several hundred helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, plus a 25,000 strong Coastal Defense Force. As part of its overall programme of naval modernisation, the PLAN has been developing a blue water navy. The Navy also uses the CJ-10 naval cruise missile system, which made its first public appearance during late 2009.
The 398,000 strong People's Liberation Army Air Force is organised into five Theater Command Air Forces (TCAF) and 24 air divisions. The largest operational units within the Aviation Corps is the air division, which has 2 to 3 aviation regiments, each with 20 to 36 aircraft. The surface-to-air missile (SAM) Corps is organised into SAM divisions and brigades. There are also three airborne divisions manned by the PLAAF.
The People's Liberation Army Rocket Force is the main strategic missile force of the PLA. It controls China's nuclear and conventional strategic missiles. China's total nuclear arsenal size is estimated to be between 100 and 400 nuclear weapons. The PLARF has approximately 100,000 personnel and six ballistic missile divisions (missile corps bases). The six divisions are independently deployed in different theater commands and have a total of 15 to 20 missile brigades.
Founded on December 31, 2015 as part of the first wave of reforms of the PLA, the People's Liberation Army Strategic Support Force is the newest branch of the PLA. Initial announcements regarding the Strategic Support Force did not provide much detail, but Yang Yujun of the Chinese Ministry of Defense described it as a combination of all support forces. Additionally, commentators speculate that it will include high-tech operations forces such as space, cyberspace and electronic warfare operations units, independent of other branches of the military. Another expert, Yin Zhuo, said that "the major mission of the PLA Strategic Support Force is to give support to the combat operations so that the PLA can gain regional advantages in the astronautic war, space war, network war and electromagnetic space war and ensure smooth operations."
Technically, military service with the PLA is obligatory for all Chinese citizens. However, in practice, it is entirely voluntary; because of China's large population and of the large number of individuals who volunteer to join the regular armed forces, the authorities seldom enforce compulsory military service. All 18-year-old males have to register themselves with the government authorities, in a way similar to the Selective Service System of the United States. The main exception to this system applies to potential university students (male and female), who must undergo military training (usually for the duration of one to four weeks) before or one year after the commencement of their courses.
Article 55 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China prescribes conscription by stating: "It is a sacred duty of every citizen of the People's Republic of China to defend his or her motherland and resist invasion. It is an honoured obligation of the citizens of the People's Republic of China to perform military service and to join the militia forces." As of 2010 the 1984 Military Service Law spells out the legal basis of conscription, describing military service as a duty for "all citizens without distinction of race... and religious creed". This law has not been amended since it came into effect. Conscription has only existed officially since the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, and, theoretically, all Chinese citizens have had the duty of performing military service. Technically, those 18–22 years of age enter selective compulsory military service, with a 24-month service obligation. This includes 18–19 years of age for female high-school graduates who meet requirements for specific military jobs. Military service is normally performed in the regular armed forces, but the 1984 law does allow for conscription into the reserve forces. Residents of the Hong Kong and Macau SAR however, as of 1997 and 1999 are exempted from joining the military.
The Joint Staff Department carries out staff and operational functions for the PLA and had major responsibility for implementing military modernisation plans. Headed by chief of general staff, the department serves as the headquarters for the entire PLA and contained directorates for the five armed services: Ground Forces, Air Force, Navy, Strategic Force and Support Forces. The Joint Staff Department included functionally organised subdepartments for artillery, armoured units, engineering, operations, training, intelligence, mobilisation, surveying, communications, quartermaster services, and politics.
Navy Headquarters controlled the North Sea Fleet, East Sea Fleet, and South Sea Fleet. Air Force Headquarters generally exercised control through the commanders of the five theater commands. Nuclear forces were directly subordinate to the Joint Staff Department through the Strategic Forces commander and political commissar. Conventional main, regional, and militia units were controlled administratively by the military region commanders, but the Joint Staff Department in Beijing could assume direct operational control of any main-force unit at will. Thus, broadly speaking, the Joint Staff Department exercises operational control of the main forces, and the military region commanders controlled the regional forces and, indirectly, the militia. The post of principal intelligence official in the top leadership of the Chinese military has been taken up by a number of people of several generations, from Li Kenong in the 1950s to Xiong Guangkai in the late 1990s; and their public capacity has always been assistant to the deputy chief of staff or assistant to the chief of staff.
Ever since the CPC officially established the system of "major military regions" for its army in the 1950s, the intelligence agencies inside the Army have, after going through several major evolutions, developed into the present three major military intelligence setups:
The Second Bureau under the headquarters and the Liaison Department under the Political Department of major military regions are only subjected to the "professional leadership" of their "counterpart" units under the Central Military Commission and are still considered the direct subordinate units of the major military region organizationally. Those entities whose names include the word "institute", all research institutes under the charge of the Second and the Third Departments of the Joint Staff Headquarters, including other research organs inside the Army, are at least of the establishment size of the full regimental level. Among the deputy commanders of a major Theater command in China, there is always one who is assigned to take charge of intelligence work, and the intelligence agencies under his charge are directly affiliated to the headquarters and the political department of the military region.
The Conference on Strengthening Intelligence Work held from 3 September 1996 – 18 September 1996 at the Xishan Command Center of the Ministry of State Security and the General Staff Department. Chi Haotian delivered a report entitled "Strengthen Intelligence Work in a New International Environment To Serve the Cause of Socialist Construction." The report emphasised the need to strengthen the following four aspects of intelligence work:
Although the four aspects emphasised by Chi Haotian appeared to be defensive measures, they were in fact both defensive and offensive in nature.
The Second Department of the Joint Staff Headquarters is responsible for collecting military intelligence. Activities include military attachés at Chinese embassies abroad, clandestine special agents sent to foreign countries to collect military information, and the analysis of information publicly published in foreign countries.
The Second Department oversees military human intelligence (HUMINT) collection, widely exploits open source (OSINT) materials, fuses HUMINT, signals intelligence (SIGINT), and imagery intelligence data, and disseminates finished intelligence products to the CMC and other consumers. Preliminary fusion is carried out by the Second Department's Analysis Bureau which mans the National Watch Center, the focal point for national-level indications and warning. In-depth analysis is carried out by regional bureaus. Although traditionally the Second Department of the Joint Staff Department was responsible for military intelligence, it is beginning to increasingly focus on scientific and technological intelligence in the military field, following the example of Russian agencies in stepping up the work of collecting scientific and technological information.
The research institute under the Second Department of the Joint Staff Headquarters is publicly known as the Institute for International Strategic Studies; its internal classified publication "Foreign Military Trends" (《外军动态》, Wai Jun Dongtai) is published every 10 days and transmitted to units at the division level.
The PLA Institute of International Relations at Nanjing comes under the Second Department of the Joint Staff Department and is responsible for training military attachés, assistant military attachés and associate military attachés as well as secret agents to be posted abroad. It also supplies officers to the military intelligence sections of various military regions and group armies. The Institute was formed from the PLA "793" Foreign Language Institute, which moved from Zhangjiakou after the Cultural Revolution and split into two institutions at Luoyang and Nanjing.
The Institute of International Relations was known in the 1950s as the School for Foreign Language Cadres of the Central Military Commission, with the current name being used since 1964. The training of intelligence personnel is one of several activities at the Institute. While all graduates of the Moscow Institute of International Relations were employed by the KGB, only some graduates of the Beijing Institute of International Relations are employed by the Ministry of State Security. The former Institute of International Relations, since been renamed the Foreign Affairs College, is under the administration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is not involved in secret intelligence work. The former Central Military Commission foreign language school had foreign faculty members who were either Communist Party sympathizers or were members of foreign communist parties. But the present Institute of International Relations does not hire foreign teachers, to avoid the danger that its students might be recognised when sent abroad as clandestine agents.
Those engaged in professional work in military academies under the Second Department of the Joint Staff Headquarters usually have a chance to go abroad, either for advanced studies or as military officers working in the military attaché's office of Chinese embassies in foreign countries. People working in the military attaché's office of embassies are usually engaged in collecting military information under the cover of "military diplomacy". As long as they refrain from directly subversive activities, they are considered as well-behaved "military diplomats".
Some bureaus under the Second Department which are responsible for espionage in different regions, of which the First Bureau is responsible for collecting information in the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, and also in Taiwan. Agents are dispatched by the Second Department to companies and other local corporations to gain cover.
The "Autumn Orchid" intelligence group assigned to Hong Kong and Macau in the mid-1980s mostly operated in the mass media, political, industrial, commercial, and religious circles, as well as in universities and colleges. The "Autumn Orchid" intelligence group was mainly responsible for the following three tasks:
The "Autumn Orchid" intelligence group was awarded a Citation for Merit, Second Class, in December 1994. It was further awarded another Citation for Merit, Second Class, in 1997. Its current status is not publicly known. During the 2008 Chinese New Year celebration CCTV held for Chinese diplomatic establishments, the head of the Second Department of the Joint Headquarters was revealed for the first time to the public: the current head was Major General Yang Hui (杨晖)
The Third Department of the Joint Staff Department is responsible for monitoring the telecommunications of foreign armies and producing finished intelligence based on the military information collected.
The communications stations established by the Third Department of the Joint Staff Headquarters are not subject to the jurisdiction of the provincial military district and the major military region of where they are based. The communications stations are entirely the agencies of the Third Department of the Joint Staff Headquarters which have no affiliations to the provincial military district and the military region of where they are based. The personnel composition, budgets, and establishment of these communications stations are entirely under the jurisdiction of the Third Department of the General PLA General Staff Headquarters, and are not related at all with local troops.
China maintains the most extensive SIGINT network of all the countries in the Asia-Pacific region. As of the late 1990s, SIGINT systems included several dozen ground stations, half a dozen ships, truck-mounted systems, and airborne systems. Third Department headquarters is in the vicinity of the GSD First Department (Operations Department), AMS, and NDU complex in the hills northwest of the Summer Palace. As of the late 1990s, the Third Department was allegedly manned by approximately 20,000 personnel, with most of their linguists trained at the Luoyang Institute of Foreign Languages.
Ever since the 1950s, the Second and Third Departments of the Joint Staff Headquarters have established a number of institutions of secondary and higher learning for bringing up "special talents." The PLA Foreign Language Institute at Luoyang comes under the Third Department of the Joint Staff Department and is responsible for training foreign language officers for the monitoring of foreign military intelligence. The Institute was formed from the PLA "793" Foreign Language Institute, which moved from Zhangjiakou after the Cultural Revolution and split into two institutions at Luoyang and Nanjing.
Though the distribution order they received upon graduation indicated the "Joint Staff Headquarters", many of the graduates of these schools found themselves being sent to all parts of the country, including remote and uninhabited backward mountain areas. The reason is that the monitoring and control stations under the Third Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters are scattered in every corner of the country.
The communications stations located in the Shenzhen base of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison started their work long ago. In normal times, these two communications stations report directly to the Central Military Commission and the Joint Staff Headquarters. Units responsible for co-ordination are the communications stations established in the garrison provinces of the military regions by the Third Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters.
By taking direct command of military communications stations based in all parts of the country, the CPC Central Military Commission and the Joint Staff Headquarters can not only ensure a successful interception of enemy radio communications, but can also make sure that none of the wire or wireless communications and contacts among major military regions can escape the detection of these communications stations, thus effectively attaining the goal of imposing a direct supervision and control over all major military regions, all provincial military districts, and all group armies.
China's main SIGINT effort is in the Third Department of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission, with additional capabilities, primarily domestic, in the Ministry of State Security (MSS). SIGINT stations, therefore, are scattered through the country, for domestic as well as international interception. Prof. Desmond Ball, of the Australian National University, described the largest stations as the main Technical Department SIGINT net control station on the northwest outskirts of Beijing, and the large complex near Lake Kinghathu in the extreme northeast corner of China.
As opposed to other major powers, China focuses its SIGINT activities on its region rather than the world. Ball wrote, in the eighties, that China had several dozen SIGINT stations aimed at Russia, Japan, Taiwan, Southeast Asia and India, as well as internally. Of the stations apparently targeting Russia, there are sites at Jilemutu and Jixi in the northeast, and at Erlian and Hami near the Mongolian border. Two Russian-facing sites in Xinjiang, at Qitai and Korla may be operated jointly with resources from the US CIA's Office of SIGINT Operations, probably focused on missile and space activity. Other stations aimed at South and Southeast Asia are on a net controlled by Chengdu, Sichuan. There is a large facility at Dayi, and, according to Ball, "numerous" small posts along the Indian border. Other significant facilities are located near Shenyang, near Jinan and in Nanjing and Shanghai. Additional stations are in the Fujian and Guangdong military districts opposite Taiwan.
On Hainan Island, near Vietnam, there is a naval SIGINT facility that monitors the South China sea, and a ground station targeting US and Russian satellites. China also has ship and aircraft platforms in this area, under the South Sea Fleet headquarters at Zhanjiang immediately north of the island. Targeting here seems to have an ELINT as well as COMINT flavor. There are also truck-mounted mobile ground systems, as well as ship, aircraft, and limited satellite capability. There are at least 10 intelligence-gathering auxiliary vessels.
As of the late nineties, the Chinese did not appear to be trying to monitor the United States Pacific Command to the same extent as does Russia. In future, this had depended, in part, on the status of Taiwan.
The Fourth Department (ECM and Radar) of the Joint Staff Headquarters Department has the electronic intelligence (ELINT) portfolio within the PLA's SIGINT apparatus. This department is responsible for electronic countermeasures, requiring them to collect and maintain data bases on electronic signals. 25 ELINT receivers are the responsibility of the Southwest Institute of Electronic Equipment (SWIEE). Among the wide range of SWIEE ELINT products is a new KZ900 airborne ELINT pod. The GSD 54th Research Institute supports the ECM Department in development of digital ELINT signal processors to analyse parameters of radar pulses.
The Political Work Department maintains the CPC structure that exists at every level of the PLA. It is responsible for overseeing the political education, indoctrination and discipline that is a prerequisite for advancement within the PLA. The PWD controls the internal prison system of the PLA. The International Liaison Department of the Political Work Department is publicly known as the "China Association for International Friendly Contacts". The department prepares political and economic information for the reference of the Political Bureau. The department conducts ideological and political work on foreign armies, explaining China's policies, and disintegrate enemy armies by dampening their morale. It is also tasked with instigating rebellions and disloyalty within the Taiwan military and other foreign militaries.
The Liaison Office has dispatched agents to infiltrate Chinese-funded companies and private institutions in Hong Kong. Their mission is counter-espionage, monitoring their own agents, and preventing and detecting foreign intelligence services buying off Chinese personnel.
China's special ground force is called PLASF (People's Liberation Army Special Operations Forces). It includes highly trained soldiers, a team of commander, assistant commander, sniper, spotter, machine-gun supporter, bomber, and a pair of assault group. China's counterterrorist unit is drawn from the police force rather than the military. The name changes frequently, but as of this writing, it is known as the Immediate Action Unit (IAU). The Chinese Army fields large number of special operations groups and would appear to have a vast pool of manpower to choose from. However, it is believed that any significant terrorist activity within Chinese borders would draw the attention of the IAU.
China has reportedly developed a force capable of carrying out long-range air-borne operations, long-range reconnaissance, and amphibious operations. Formed in China's Guangzhou military region and known by the nickname "Sword of Southern China", the force supposedly receives army, air force and naval training, including flight training, and is equipped with "hundreds of high-tech devices", including global-positioning satellite systems. All of the force's officers have completed military staff colleges, and 60 percent are said to have university degrees. Soldiers are reported to be cross-trained in various specialties, and training is supposed to encompass a range of operational environments. It is far from clear whether this unit is considered operational by the Chinese. It is also not clear how such a force would be employed. Among the missions mentioned were "responding to contingencies in various regions" and "cooperating with other services in attacks on islands". According to the limited reporting, the organisation appears to be in a phase of testing and development and may constitute an experimental unit. While no size for the force has been revealed, there have been Chinese media claims that "over 4,000 soldiers of the force are all-weather and versatile fighters and parachutists who can fly airplanes and drive auto vehicles and motor boats".
According to the United States Defense Department, China is developing kinetic-energy weapons, high-powered lasers, high-powered microwave weapons, particle-beam weapons, and electromagnetic pulse weapons with its increase of military fundings.
The PLA has said of reports that its modernisation is dependent on sales of advanced technology from American allies "Some people have politicized China's normal commercial cooperation with foreign countries, smearing our reputation." These contributions include advanced European diesel engines for Chinese warships, military helicopter designs from Eurocopter, French anti-submarine sonars and helicopters, Australian technology for the Houbei class missile boat, and Israeli supplied American missile, laser and aircraft technology.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's data, China became the world's third largest exporter of major arms in 2010–14, an increase of 143 percent from the period 2005–2009. China's share of global arms exports hence increased from 3 to 5 percent. China supplied major arms to 35 states in 2010–14. A significant percentage (just over 68 percent) of Chinese exports went to three countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. China also exported major arms to 18 African states. Examples of China's increasing global presence as an arms supplier in 2010–14 included deals with Venezuela for armoured vehicles and transport and trainer aircraft, with Algeria for three frigates, with Indonesia for the supply of hundreds of anti-ship missiles and with Nigeria for the supply of a number of unmanned combat aerial vehicles. Following rapid advances in its arms industry, China has become less dependent on arms imports, which decreased by 42 percent between 2005–2009 and 2010–14. Russia accounted for 61 percent of Chinese arms imports, followed by France with 16 percent and Ukraine with 13 per cent. Helicopters formed a major part of Russian and French deliveries, with the French designs produced under licence in China. Over the years, China has struggled to design and produce effective engines for combat and transport vehicles. It continued to import large numbers of engines from Russia and Ukraine in 2010–14 for indigenously designed combat, advanced trainer and transport aircraft, and for naval ships. It also produced British-, French- and German-designed engines for combat aircraft, naval ships and armoured vehicles, mostly as part of agreements that have been in place for decades.
There is a belief in the western military doctrines that the PLA have already begun engaging countries using cyber-warfare. There has been a significant increase in the number of presumed Chinese military initiated cyber events from 1999 to the present day.
Cyberwarfare has gained recognition as a valuable technique because it is an asymmetric technique that is a part of Chinese Information Operations. As is written by two PLAGF Colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, "Methods that are not characterised by the use of the force of arms, nor by the use of military power, nor even by the presence of casualties and bloodshed, are just as likely to facilitate the successful realisation of the war's goals, if not more so.
In February 2013, the media named "Comment Crew" as a hacker military faction for China's People's Liberation Army. In May 2014, a Federal Grand Jury in the United States indicted five Unit 61398 officers on criminal charges related to cyber attacks on private companies.
In 1955, China decided to proceed with a nuclear weapons program. The decision was made after the United States threatened the use of nuclear weapons against China should it take action against Quemoy and Matsu, coupled with the lack of interest of the Soviet Union for using its nuclear weapons in defence of China.
After their first nuclear test (China claims minimal Soviet assistance before 1960) on 16 October 1964, China was the first state to pledge no-first-use of nuclear weapons. On 1 July 1966, the Second Artillery Corps, as named by Premier Zhou Enlai, was formed. In 1967, China tested a fully functional hydrogen bomb, only 32 months after China had made its first fission device. China thus produced the shortest fission-to-fusion development known in history.
China became a major international arms exporter during the 1980s. Beijing joined the Middle East arms control talks, which began in July 1991 to establish global guidelines for conventional arms transfers, and later announced that it would no longer participate because of the US decision to sell 150 F-16A/B aircraft to Taiwan on 2 September 1992.
It joined the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1984 and pledged to abstain from further atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in 1986. China acceded to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1992 and supported its indefinite and unconditional extension in 1995. Nuclear weapons tests by China ceased in 1996, when it signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and agreed to seek an international ban on the production of fissile nuclear weapons material.
In 1996, China committed to provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. China attended the May 1997 meeting of the NPT Exporters (Zangger) Committee as an observer and became a full member in October 1997. The Zangger Committee is a group which meets to list items that should be subject to IAEA inspections if exported by countries, which have, as China has, signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In September 1997, China issued detailed nuclear export control regulations. China began implementing regulations establishing controls over nuclear-related dual-use items in 1998. China also has decided not to engage in new nuclear co-operation with Iran (even under safeguards), and will complete existing co-operation, which is not of proliferation concern, within a relatively short period. Based on significant, tangible progress with China on nuclear nonproliferation, President Clinton in 1998 took steps to bring into force the 1985 US–China Agreement on Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation.
Beijing has deployed a modest ballistic missile force, including land and sea-based intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). It was estimated in 2007 that China has about 100–160 liquid fuelled ICBMs capable of striking the United States with approximately 100–150 IRBMs able to strike Russia or Eastern Europe, as well as several hundred tactical SRBMs with ranges between 300 and 600 km. Currently, the Chinese nuclear stockpile is estimated to be between 50 and 75 land and sea based ICBM's.
China's nuclear program follows a doctrine of minimal deterrence, which involves having the minimum force needed to deter an aggressor from launching a first strike. The current efforts of China appear to be aimed at maintaining a survivable nuclear force by, for example, using solid-fuelled ICBMs in silos rather than liquid-fuelled missiles. China's 2006 published deterrence policy states that they will "uphold the principles of counterattack in self-defense and limited development of nuclear weapons", but "has never entered, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any country". It goes on to describe that China will never undertake a first strike, or use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state or zone. US strategists, however, suggest that the Chinese position may be ambiguous, and nuclear weapons may be used both to deter conventional strikes/invasions on the Chinese mainland, or as an international political tool – limiting the extent to which other nations can coerce China politically, an inherent, often inadvertent phenomenon in international relations as regards any state with nuclear capabilities.
The PLA has deployed a number of space-based systems for military purposes, including the imagery intelligence satellite systems like the ZiYan series, and the militarily designated JianBing series, synthetic aperture satellites (SAR) such as JianBing-5, BeiDou satellite navigation network, and secured communication satellites with FENGHUO-1.
The PLA is responsible for the Chinese space program. To date, all the participants have been selected from members of the PLA Air Force. China became the third country in the world to have sent a man into space by its own means with the flight of Yang Liwei aboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft on 15 October 2003 and the flight of Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng aboard Shenzhou 6 on 12 October 2005 and Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming, and Jing Haipeng aboard Shenzhou 7 on 25 September 2008.
The PLA started the development of an anti-ballistic and anti-satellite system in the 1960s, code named Project 640, including ground-based lasers and anti-satellite missiles. On 11 January, 2007, China conducted a successful test of an anti-satellite missile, with an SC-19 class KKV. Its anti ballistic missile test was also successful.
Military spending in the People's Liberation Army has grown about 10 percent annually over the last 15 years. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, estimated China's military expenditure for 2013 to $188.5 billion US. China's military budget for 2014 according to IHS Jane's, a defence industry consulting and analysis company, will be $148 billion US, which is the second largest in the world. The United States military budget for 2014 in comparison, is $574.9 billion US., which is down from a high of $664.3 billion US in 2012. According to SIPRI, China became the world's third largest exporter of major arms in 2010–14, an increase of 143 per cent from the period 2005–2009. China supplied major arms to 35 states in 2010–14. A significant percentage (just over 68 per cent) of Chinese exports went to three countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. China also exported major arms to 18 African states. Examples of China's increasing global presence as an arms supplier in 2010–14 included deals with Venezuela for armoured vehicles and transport and trainer aircraft, with Algeria for three frigates, with Indonesia for the supply of hundreds of anti-ship missiles and with Nigeria for the supply of a number of unmanned combat aerial vehicles. Following rapid advances in its arms industry, China has become less dependent on arms imports, which decreased by 42 per cent between 2005–2009 and 2010–14.
China's rise in military spending come at a time when there are tensions along the South China Sea with territorial disputes involving the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan, as well as escalating tensions between China and Japan involving the disputed Diaoyu (Chinese spelling) and Senkaku (Japanese spelling) islands.
Former-United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has urged China to be more transparent about its military capabilities and intentions and Chinese state media has agreed that there is a need to "communicate more often and more effectively" about the issue. They do not know if the intel is correct but they are risking it. The International Institute for Strategic Studies in a 2011 report argued that if spending trends continue China will achieve military equality with the United States in 15–20 years.
Until the mid-1990s the PLA had extensive commercial enterprise holdings in non-military areas, particularly real estate. Almost all of these holdings were supposedly spun off in the mid-1990s. In most cases, the management of the companies remained unchanged, with the PLA officers running the companies simply retiring from the PLA to run the newly formed private holding companies.
The history of PLA involvement in commercial enterprises began in the 1950s and 1960s. Because of the socialist state-owned system and from a desire for military self-sufficiency, the PLA created a network of enterprises such as farms, guest houses, and factories intended to financially support its own needs. One unintended side effect of the Deng-era economic reforms was that many of these enterprises became very profitable. For example, a military guest house intended for soldier recreation could be easily converted into a profitable hotel for civilian use. There were two main factors which increased PLA commercial involvement in the 1990s. One was that running profitable companies decreased the need for the state to fund the military from the government budget. The second was that in an environment where legal rules were unclear and political connections were important, PLA influence was very useful.
By the early 1990s party officials and high military officials were becoming increasingly alarmed at the military's commercial involvement for a number of reasons. The military's involvement in commerce was seen to adversely affect military readiness and spread corruption. Further, there was great concern that having an independent source of funding would lead to decreased loyalty to the party. The result of this was an effort to spin off the PLA's commercial enterprises into private companies managed by former PLA officers, and to reform military procurement from a system in which the PLA directly controls its sources of supply to a contracting system more akin to those of Western countries. The separation of the PLA from its commercial interests was largely complete by the year 2000. It was met with very little resistance, as the spinoff was arranged in such a way that few lost out. The rapidly expanding CEFC China Energy, that bought a $9 billion stake in Russia's largest oil producer Rosneft, is linked to the PLA.
Military Anthem of the People's Liberation Army
March of the PLA (instrumental, shortened)
The military anthem of the PLA is the Military Anthem of the People's Liberation Army (simplified Chinese: 中国人民解放军军歌; traditional Chinese: 中國人民解放軍軍歌; pinyin: Zhōngguó Rénmín Jiěfàngjūn Jūngē). The Central Military Commission adopted the song on July 25, 1988.
The lyrics of the anthem were written by Gong Mu and the music was composed by Zheng Lücheng.
It is also possible that during this decade the PLA Navy could deploy initial railgun and laser weapons. It is known that the PLA has invested heavily in both technologies.