China is the most populous country in the world, with nearly 1.4 billion people. The Chinese Army, also known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is one of the largest in the world by size. The PLA’s mission is to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China. The PLA is divided into five major branches: the Ground Force, the Navy, the Air Force, the Rocket Force, and the Strategic Support Force.
According to a Central Intelligence Agency estimate in 2019, the PLA had over 1.2 million members, making it the world’s largest standing army by far. However, a large number of those members are in reserve forces, with the active army believed to have just over 900,000 personnel. The active army consists of about 600,000 men and 300,000 women—although the exact figures have been the subject of debate.
Data and Statistics
In 2017, the Military Balance group reported that the number of active-duty personnel in the PLA was just over two million, with 1.27 million in the Ground Force alone—a reduction of almost 300,000 members since 2009. The same report found that the active duty personnel of the Chinese Air Force was just over 390,000, while the active duty personnel of the Navy was approximately 250,000. The Rocket Force stood at 100,000 and the Dragon Corps has a strength of over 20,000.
An article published by Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Daily in 2015 suggested that the PLA’s manpower should not exceed two million. This number was later reaffirmed by a report from China’s National Defense White Paper in 2017. The white paper revealed that the PLA had reduced its personnel by 300,000 since 2008, with the goal being to reduce the number of active military personnel to two million by 2020.
Perspectives from Experts
Experts believe there are a variety of reasons for China’s reduction in forces. According to Bonnie Glaser, a Senior Adviser for Asia and the Director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the reduction is a result of China’s desire to incentivize personnel with more attractive pay and benefits, and to modernize the PLA.
“China wants to shrink its large and aging military, retaining only those forces that can be trained to operate state-of-the-art weaponry,” she said.
Retired Colonel Richard D. Fisher Jr., a Senior Fellow of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, believes that China wants to create a more efficient standing army which is better armed and more capable of taking on the United States.
“With the goal of a modernized ‘informatized’ fight, the PLA is everywhere cutting back in personnel, but more gently increasing investment in modern weapons,” he said.
Own Insights and Analysis
The PLA is also facing challenges due to its inability to recruit enough personnel as China’s population ages. This has led to the introduction of new initiatives to attract individuals, such as increasing salaries, offering bonuses and expanding the fields of study available at military academies.
Experts point out that the advances in technology are further reducing the need for manpower in the Chinese military. This is why the PLA is investing in drones and other automated systems rather than expanding its personnel.
It appears that China is not just reducing its army size for financial reasons, but also for a variety of other reasons like modernization, efficiency and recruitment issues. Although the exact numbers are difficult to verify, and the Chinese authorities have not completely revealed them, there is no doubt that the PLA has seen a major reduction in size in recent years.
Changing Recruitment Trends
The Chinese army is facing difficulties in recruitment with the generations born in the 1980s to 2000s, who have grown up amidst peace, stability, and prosperity and consequently have little interest in the military. To counter this, the Chinese military has increased efforts to market military careers to this group, especially those who opt to further their studies abroad.
In 2019, the PLA ran a recruitment campaign across social media platforms, which has proven to be effective, as more and more young people now express a desire to join the military.
Issues with Gender Equality
Although there has been a lot of progress in recent years in terms of gender equality, there is still a marked difference between the number of men and women in the Chinese army. According to The Conversation, women are only a small part of the armed forces: there is only one woman for every four men in the Chinese military.
Despite increased efforts to attract more women into the forces, traditional values and cultural norms continue to limit female recruitment. This has been further exacerbated by the reluctance of women to join a society that emphasizes masculinity.
Role of Technology
The Chinese military is focusing on modernizing its forces by investing heavily in cutting-edge technology. In recent years, the PLA has made tremendous advances in space, cyber and artificial intelligence capabilities, as well as investments in advanced drones, missiles and unmanned vehicles.
The military is also making use of advanced surveillance technologies and data analytics to improve its intelligence capabilities. This is giving the Chinese military an edge in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, as well as information warfare.
In line with its modernization efforts, the Chinese military has been steadily increasing its spending. According to a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China’s official defence spending was just under $240 billion in 2020, making it the second highest spender behind the United States.
The Chinese economy has been slowing down in recent years, and as a result, defence spending has also decreased. This means that the Chinese military is now facing financial constraints, which are likely to impact its modernization efforts.
The PLA is now facing the challenge of increasing its capabilities while at the same time reducing its costs. This has resulted in a focus on cost-efficiencies, such as reducing personnel and investing in technological solutions.
Job Opportunities for Retired Soldiers
The PLA has recently introduced a slew of policies to help veterans transition to civilian life. These include providing veterans with job opportunities in the public and private sectors, as well as access to business credit, housing benefits and job training.
The PLA is also providing veterans with assistance in setting up their own businesses, as well as loans and financing to help them start their own businesses. The goal of these policies is to ensure that veterans are able to find suitable employment and integrate successfully into society.
The PLA is facing a number of challenges as it works to modernize and reduce its numbers. The military is also facing difficulties in recruitment due to the changing values of its population, as well as the expense and time needed to train its personnel.
As a result, the Chinese government has put into place various policies and initiatives aimed at addressing these issues, such as incentives to attract recruits and assistance for veterans to transition to civilian life. In addition, China is increasingly investing in technological solutions to reduce its costs and increase its capabilities.