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Military Personnel

Somewhat surprisingly, the world's most populous country [China], seems not to have the world's larget army. No one seems to know the size of the Chinese army.

By 2017, IISS reported the PLA land forces had a total strength of 1,150,000. The total PLA personnel was about 2.3 million before the country announced a cut of 300,000 troops in 2015.

China has basically completed the task of reducing the armed forces by 300,000 troops, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on 05 March 2018. Li made the remarks when delivering his annual government work report to lawmakers during the opening meeting of the first session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC), China's national legislature, held in Beijing from March 5 to 20.

According to the April 2013 white paper on "the diversified employment of China's armed forces," the PLA Army mobile operational units include 18 combined corps, plus additional independent combined operational divisions (brigades), and had a total strength of 850,000. The PLA Navy had a total strength of 235,000 officers and men. The PLA Air Force now has a total strength of 398,000 officers and men. Figures for the strength of the PLA Second Artillery Force and other training bases and specialized support units were not released. No official numbers of the total population of PLA Army were released.

According to some Western sources such as the IISS Military Balance, the size of the Chinese ground forces was the largest in the world with approximately 1.6 million personnel. IISS reported that about half this number are conscripts, while the other half were professional.

Jun Zhengping Studio, a WeChat account run by the PLA Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese military, published an article on structural reform in the military on 12 July 2017, saying that "the old military structure, where the army accounts for the vast majority, will be replaced after the reform.... "This is the first time that active PLA Army personnel would be reduced to below one million," wrote the article.

In a white paper titled "The Diversified Employment of China's Armed Forces", which was published by the State Council Information Office in May 2013, the PLA disclosed the strength and formation of its ground force, air force, navy and missile arm.

According to the document, the eighth of its kind issued by the Chinese government since 1998, the mobile operational units of the PLA ground force consisted of 18 combined corps and several independent combined combat divisions or brigades. These units were reported, to demonstrate the transparency and openness of the Chinese military, to have a strength of 850,000. The US Department of Defense seems to have split the difference, reporting 1.25 million active duty PLA personnel as of 2012.

China on 17 April 2013 revealed the military strength of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) for the first time, saying it had 1.483 million personnel divided into 18 different corps. Titled, the "national defence white paper", it also revealed for the first time, the identities of the "group armies", or the 18 different corps the PLA has. In terms of numbers, the paper was a marked departure from earlier similar documents. "China now has about 850,000 army servicemen in 18 combined corps and additional independent combined operational divisions (brigades)," the paper said. Troop numbers, currently at less than 3 million after 10 reductions from a peak of 6.27 million in 1951, would be reduced to 2 million 1 million in the national guard and 1 million in the army, navy and air force. The army will bear the brunt of the reductions, being cut from 850,000 at present to 490,000. The navy would go from 235,000 to 210,000 and the air force from 398,000 to 300,000. In April 2015, the PLA Daily reported that the army would cut a large number of non-combat posts, including medical, communications and artist troupes.

In the late 1970s, the PLA began altering its promotion practices to reflect the new emphasis on professional competence. Previously, there had been no retirement system in effect, and junior and field-grade officers had remained at their posts for many years with little opportunity for advancement. When promotion occurred, it was based on seniority, political rectitude, or a patron-client relationship. Officers advanced up a single chain of command, remaining in the same branch or service for life. In 1978 the PLA reinstituted the retirement system established by the 1955 Military Service Law and promulgated officer service regulations, which set retirement ages for military officers. Thus the PLA began a two-pronged effort to retire older officers and to promote younger, better educated, professionally competent officers. Older officers, including many over seventy years of age, were offered generous retirement packages as inducements to retire. The PLA also formulated new promotion standards that set minimum education levels for officers and emphasized education in military academies as a criterion for promotion.

Officers below the age of forty had to acquire a secondary-school education by 1990 or face demotion. Furthermore, past promotion practices were to be discarded in favor of greater emphasis on formal training, higher education levels, and selection of more officers from technical and noncombat units. With the reduction in force begun in 1985, professional competence, education, and age became criteria for demobilization as well as promotion. By 1987 the PLA's promotion practices were based more on merit than they had been a decade earlier; nevertheless, political rectitude and guanxi (personal connections) continued to play an important role in promotion, and no centralized personnel system had been established.

China is attempting to transform its military from a force dependent upon mass to a streamlined information-based military with highly-qualified officers and soldiers. To meet these new requirements, the PLA has implemented programs to rejuvenate its officer corps, enhance professional military education, reform its NCO program, establish new guidelines for training and exercises and improve the quality of life for its officers and soldiers. While the CMC began discussing the implementation of human capital programs in the late 1990s, improvements in the PLA personnel system only become evident a decade later.

Guidance identified in recent Defense White Papers reflects the PLA's focus since the late 1990s on increased integration of domestic and foreign training as well as of military and civilian education to support defense needs. The PLA also began focusing more attention on morale and welfare within its officer and NCO corps, and implemented a series of measures to strengthen and modernize its personnel system, to include reforms to streamline the force, improve quality of life, strengthen political work, increase the education levels of members, and address corruption.

In 2005, the CMC approved the Opinions on Strengthening the Noncommissioned Officer Corps, which stipulated that as of 2005 candidates for the NCO corps must at least have a high school education, specialized skills, and must take continuing education and training courses. Some of the NCOs will also take over technical and administrative positions customarily held by officers, within the PLA.

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Page last modified: 04-08-2018 18:05:07 ZULU