When it comes to military might, the Chinese army is no laughing matter.Vastly experienced, heavily numerically superior and constantly modernizing its methods, Chinese forces have achieved an indisputable level of multilateral excellence.But of the most commonly asked questions within the international community is the population of soldiers within the People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA).Covering both the ground forces and air force, just how many soldiers does the Chinese army have?
Generally speaking, the Chinese army is estimated to have a total personnel strength of two million.For the land forces in particular, the PLA ground force come in at 1.6 million officers and soldiers toeing the party line.Of the two million soldiers, approximately 500,000 are high tech troops – the tip of the spear of the Chinese forces.
As for the air forces, the PLA air force (also PLAAF) inputs approximately 400,000 personnel, making it the world’s second largest air forces.Uniquely, much of the PLAAF’s troops are civilian non-combatant personnel (as opposed to most of the US Air force’s personnel being comprised of combatants).As a point of reference, the USAF has a personnel size of just over 325,000.
When one looks at the amount of personnel input that the Chinese army has, it’s easy to understand why it is one of the most powerful forces in the world.Not only is their army personnel large, but they have had a long period of peace and stability that have allowed them to grow and weaponize in unprecedented ways.In recent times, the Chinese military has made huge leaps and bounds in popular armaments and equipment, putting them the same tier as the Americans, Russians and Europeans.
It is indeed impressive that the Chinese army has been able to maintain its current size and rate of improvement in the face of all odds.For researchers looking at the economics side of the issue, the costs charged by the Chinese government for maintaining an army of two million is simply stunning to say the least.Not only do the Chinese forces have superior numbers, but they have a level of training and weaponization that is the result of very hard work and commitment.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all is good in the Chinese army.As with any large scale militaries, there is a fair share of inefficiency, bureaucracy and even some cases of corruption that dampen the PLA’s ends.The public view regarding the PLA is also largely negative – probably because of the reputation of the Chinese government.
Modernizing of Arsenal and Equipment
Gaining the latest weapons technology and outsourcing them to their citizens has been the name of the game for China since the early 2000s.Speaking from a weapons per capita point of view, this upgrade is truly remarkable.China now has access to numerous strategic systems, ranging from aircraft to sophisticated missile infrastructure, that have all enabled their forces to better their capacity to defend their national interests.
Moreover, China has visited the development of a modern artillery system and has produced around 20,000 items in total.Of those items, 13,000 have already been deployed in the field, further illustrating just how effectively the PLA is able to arm itself with the latest technologies.
China has also fingered hydrogen fuel cells, synthetic fuels and other advanced energy sources to power its army, granting them access to a wide array of armaments and content.Overall, the PLA is well armed, purposeful and surprisingly generous with its military resources.
Public Perception of PLA
When it comes to public opinion, the image of the Chinese army is highly nuanced and definitely open to debate.The Chinese public itself generally perceives the PLA in a more positive light compared to its armed forces from other countries, mainly due to its success in international military conflict resolution.That said, issues pertaining to human rights abuses, especially during the treatment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, have caused a rift in public opinion. Negative public perception of the PLA has been on the rise in recent months, particularly in the wake of the Hong Kong protest.
Despite these challenges, the PLA remains an honorable institution in China.Those who volunteer their lives in the service of defending their homeland are respected and honored in Chinese society, something which cannot be said for all countries.Moreover, the quality of life in the PLA has improved substantially due to more relaxed regulations and laws.
Military Expenditure as Proportion of GDP
When it comes to military expenditure as proportion of GDP, China has consistently stayed within the 4% range in the past decade.This has been largely due to the Chinese government’s insistence on discreet and disciplined use of funds.In 2017, the figure was just 3.2% of the total Chinese GDP, the lowest it had been in the past 8 years.
Strict austerity measures have unfortunately led to a decrease in the modernization of Chinese forces, a natural consequence of decreased funding and resources.It appears that the Chinese government prioritizes maintaining the nation’s peace above all else, a goal which costs less than aiming for accelerated military modernization.For the average Joe, such dedication to peace must be applauded.
Chinese Military Readiness for Conflict
When confronted with the possibility of armed conflict, China is more than ready to respond.This is due in part to their large number of soldiers and superior training, as discussed above.If one was to take a closer look at the Chinese military’s operations, however, it is clear to see that necessity is at the core of their readiness for conflict.Having undertaken studies on potential military responses in the face of global events, the Chinese military is located in such a way that the entire Chinese relations with the global community could be defended should the need arise.
That being said, the overall readiness of the PLA is dependent on the current global politics.As the geopolitical situation constantly changes, so to will the Chinese military’s stance towards conflicts and wars.Not only that, but the Chinese army is also constantly refining its operations as time passes, with the goal of becoming a truly formidable global force in terms of strength, readiness and skill.
Chinese Foreign Relations
When it comes to foreign relations, the Chinese military are not just a mere engine of war, but also a key negotiator on behalf of the Chinese nation.The PLA’s recent involvement in talks pertaining to the dispute between India and Pakistan, for example, showcases their ability to diffuse volatile situations.Without a doubt, their presence in international talks provides a necessary degree of legitimacy.
Moreover, the PLA’s heavy involvement in diplomatic relations allows the Chinese government to actively pursue their national interests via militarily negotiation and weapons sales etc.Throughout the years, the PLA has managed to maintain a good record of neutrality and respect when dealing with foreign governments, something which has ultimately resulted in positive relations with most nations.
Power Projection of Chinese Army
Aside from being a force for peace and international mediation, the Chinese military is also highly projected in terms of collaborative military exercises with foreign powers.For example, the 2015 joint military exercise between the Chinese and Russian militaries showcased what could be described as an unprecedented display of alliance, likely meant to intimidate the US and its allies.
The Chinese military’s close involvement with other nations such as North Korea, Vietnam and even America further serves as a way to project power to the world.Through their collaborative joint endeavours, China is able to mark its presence globally and further cement its hegemony over East Asia, much to the chagrin of a few key players.
Implications of Chinese Military Strength
The implications of Chinese military strength are far reaching, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.For one, their ability to rapidly mobilize personnel in times of need serves as a deterrent to countries such as Japan and Taiwan, both of whom are currently in conflict with China over various issues.
As for America, the Chinese military stands as a unique obstacle for the US’s continued global hegemony.In fact, the US has continuously been trying to limit China’s reach and influence in the region through sanctions and diplomatic pressure, ultimately to no avail.The fact of the matter is, China’s military prowess renders them a genuine power player in regional matters, something that the US is wary of.One can only hope that such standoff does not lead to any sort of catastrophic conflict.
In a period of disruption and chaos, it is comforting to know that China is an anchor in terms of military force.Their two million strong army, well armed, well equipped and well respected stands at the forefront of defending their nation’s dignity and national interests both abroad and at home.Undoubtedly, the Chinese army is one powerful force to be reckoned with, and one that should be respected.