The role of the army in China's politics

29-06-2015

With about 2.3 million troops, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA), founded in 1927 as the Red Army and renamed in 1946, is the largest army in the world, although its power projection capabilities are not yet commensurate with China's regional and global status. The PLA has undergone a profound transformation from its beginnings as a revolutionary army of ground troops engaged in guerrilla warfare against enemies on Chinese territory. The post-revolutionary army is now divided into the PLA Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Second Artillery Force which is increasingly – although not exclusively – trained to deploy outside Chinese borders. A comprehensive modernisation process has been under way since the 1980s, including a drastic downsizing of the PLA Army, supported by a defence budget rising in double digits. Beyond traditional national defence and military operations other than war (MOOTW), such as anti-piracy and peace-keeping missions, emergency response and disaster relief, the PLA's fundamental role within the Chinese party-state is still to act as the military wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and guarantor of its one-party rule. Despite this functional continuity, civil-military relations have witnessed a major change from previously symbiotic ties. A gradual bifurcation of the civil and military spheres follows a generational shift in civil and military leadership at the end of the 1980s, and the PLA's growing professionalisation. With its specialisation increasing and its representation in the highest party bodies diminishing, the PLA seems to have lost part of its past relevance, as it becomes one political actor among many. The PLA has largely withdrawn from non-military policy-making. It has concentrated on marking defence-related foreign policy and domestic security matters with its conservative nationalism, and has gained limited autonomy from the party in technical matters. Analysts are nonetheless sceptical whether the PLA is in transition from a party-army to a genuine national army.

With about 2.3 million troops, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA), founded in 1927 as the Red Army and renamed in 1946, is the largest army in the world, although its power projection capabilities are not yet commensurate with China's regional and global status. The PLA has undergone a profound transformation from its beginnings as a revolutionary army of ground troops engaged in guerrilla warfare against enemies on Chinese territory. The post-revolutionary army is now divided into the PLA Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Second Artillery Force which is increasingly – although not exclusively – trained to deploy outside Chinese borders. A comprehensive modernisation process has been under way since the 1980s, including a drastic downsizing of the PLA Army, supported by a defence budget rising in double digits. Beyond traditional national defence and military operations other than war (MOOTW), such as anti-piracy and peace-keeping missions, emergency response and disaster relief, the PLA's fundamental role within the Chinese party-state is still to act as the military wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and guarantor of its one-party rule. Despite this functional continuity, civil-military relations have witnessed a major change from previously symbiotic ties. A gradual bifurcation of the civil and military spheres follows a generational shift in civil and military leadership at the end of the 1980s, and the PLA's growing professionalisation. With its specialisation increasing and its representation in the highest party bodies diminishing, the PLA seems to have lost part of its past relevance, as it becomes one political actor among many. The PLA has largely withdrawn from non-military policy-making. It has concentrated on marking defence-related foreign policy and domestic security matters with its conservative nationalism, and has gained limited autonomy from the party in technical matters. Analysts are nonetheless sceptical whether the PLA is in transition from a party-army to a genuine national army.