China's army leaner and
meaner By Antoaneta Bezlova
BEIJING - Recent cutbacks in China's vast
military - part of Beijing's campaign to modernize
and strengthen its army - were accompanied by an
unusual public relations stunt.
contrast to traditional secrecy surrounding the
country's military affairs, China chose to
publicize its new downsizing campaign by selecting
two experts from military-backed think tanks to be
interviewed on China Central Television (CCTV) on
what the new cuts mean for Beijing's ambitions to
build a slimmer and more mobile force.
200,000-soldier reduction, under way since 2003, was
completed last month, leaving
about 2.3 million troops in what is still the
world's biggest standing army, according to a
report in the official PLA Daily.
military is marching towards the goal of an
appropriately sized, structurally balanced, lean,
command-responsive fighting force," the paper said
But responding to doubts in
the United States and neighboring Asian countries
that its growing military clout might become a
regional threat, Beijing chose not to limit its
announcement to the state-run print media, but to
air its views on the significance of the military
cuts on CCTV.
Guangqian, of the research unit of the China
Military Control and Reduction Association,
suggested the new round of downsizing has achieved
a different objective than previous cuts.
"It is not only about reducing numbers;
this time it is also about getting the army
tailored to the needs of a new information age and
the requirements of a future high-tech war," he
staffing reductions included 170,000 officers - some 80% of
all the cutbacks. "It reflects the need to trim
commanding personnel and make the chain of
decision-making swifter and more rational," Peng
Teng Jianqun of the Chinese Military
Academy said, "In a high-tech environment where
information technology is paramount, there won't
be a need for so many layers of commanding
The emphasis on high-tech
warfare, as opposed to China's traditional
reliance on masses of ground troops, has also seen
the infantry falling to an all-time low proportion
of the military force, according to the People's
Liberation Army's newspaper.
modernization trend was also reflected in a series
of military personnel changes completed last year.
The Communist Party's decision-making Central
Military Commission, which has long been dominated
by the PLA, for the first time admitted into its
ranks commanders from the air force, the navy and
the missile forces in order to cope with high-tech
warfare in the future.
Air force commander
Qiao Qingchen, navy commander Zhang Dingfa and
commander Jing Zhiyuan, whose units control
China's ballistic missiles, joined the top
military body in September, signaling the
importance given to fighting a war in a new
Major-General Peng suggested further reductions in
the proportion of ground troops were in the works,
with an increase of the role of the navy and
"Our goal is to cut fat
and add muscle," Peng said. "We need to trim the
tail and sharpen our teeth," he added, referring
to a saying by the late Communist Party chairman
Both military experts took
pains to emphasize that the top-to-bottom
modernization drive aimed at forming a skilled and
lean army was as important as the purchase of the
sophisticated weapons China wants to acquire.
Over the past few years, Beijing has had
to face accusations that a distinct regional
military threat is emerging as the PLA stockpiles
more modern weapons. The announced defense budget
has risen by double-digit percentages in most
recent years. For 2005, it was about US$30
billion, a 12.6% increase from the prior year.
The Pentagon says high-priced programs
controlled by the PLA, such as space flights, and
other military-backed research are not included in
the official budget figure. Last October China
reacted sharply when US Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld suggested that its true military spending
might be three times the announced budget figure.
If true, that would make China's defense
expenditures among the world's largest, but still
far behind the $420 billion earmarked by the US
for defense in 2005.
Though China's total spending is far below US levels,
the rate of its increase is much greater
than elsewhere in the West, and mainland China now
ranks fifth in the world in terms of military spending.
As Rumsfeld's comments during his October
visit to Beijing showed, the US and its allies
remain very wary about the pace and scope of
China's military expansion.
were heightened when, last August, China and
Russia cooperated in the largest joint military
exercise in decades. Some 10,000 PLA troops and a
range of sophisticated Russian weaponry were
deployed for the maneuvers that took place in
China's Shangdong province.
China's primary supplier of military hardware but
Beijing has been lobbying the European Union to
lift its ban on weapon sales this spring.
The lifting of the embargo foreseen
originally for last spring was delayed by a
combination of strong US opposition and the
passing by Beijing of its Anti-Secession Law,
which provides the PLA with the legal base for
invading China's arch-rival - the democratic
island of Taiwan.
Beijing has tried to
assuage the international community's perceptions
of threat caused by increasing military spending.
Almost simultaneously with the announcement of the
military cuts last month, the government released
a foreign-policy white paper in which it made a
"solemn promise" that its growing power will never
become a threat to other nations.
road of peaceful development is the inevitable way
for China to achieve modernization and a serious
choice and solemn promise made by the Chinese
government and the Chinese people," the white
paper said. "China did not seek hegemony in the
past, nor does it now, and will not do so in the
future when it gets stronger."