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. By 2020, IISS reported Ground Forces to have a strength of about 975,000 soldiers. According to some Western sources such as the IISS Military Balance, in the year 2020 the size of the Chinese reserve forces was about 510,000 personnelm ost fo whom are ground forces. IISS reported that about half the active Ground Forces are conscripts, while the other half were professional.
China had 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. These units were reported, to demonstrate the transparency and openness of the Chinese military. 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.
The PLA Navy had a total strength of 235,000 officers and men. The PLA Air Force had 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.
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.
The Military Service Law provided the legal basis for conscription, and it combined compulsory and voluntary service. All citizens between eighteen and twenty-two, regardless of sex, nationality, profession, family background, religion, or level of education, were obliged to perform military service. Men 18-24 years of age are subject to selective compulsory military service, with a 2 year service obligation. There is no minimum age for voluntary service (all officers are volunteers). Women 18-19 years of age who are high school graduates and who meet requirements for specific military jobs are subject to conscription, and a recent military decision allows women in combat roles. A very small number of women were inducted annually.
Annual quota numbers for both the PLA and PAP were estimated by the US DOD to be 500,000. Conscription in China with over 10,000,000 men reaching militarily significant age annually, of whom perhaps 8,000,000 are fit for service would produce an army of at least 16,000,000 men. In fact, conscripts in the PLA Ground Force appear to number about 800,000, only about five percent of the total potential number.
The system of conscription used by the PLA differs from Western practices. Instead of a general requirement of service for citizens of a certain age, the PLA’s conscription system functions more as a “levy,” in which the PLA establishes the number of conscripts needed, which produces quotas that are imposed on local governments which are charged with providing a set number of soldiers or sailors. If the number of volunteers fails to meet quota despite efforts to cajole or convince candidates, local government officials may compel unwilling individuals to enter service. China does not release data on what share of recruits are compelled rather than volunteers.
The vast majority of NCOs come from conscripts who then elect to continue service in the PLA. Revisions in the NCO corps structure are intended to compensate for the decision to decrease the length of conscription service to two years for all services, and replaced the earlier system which had allowed conscripts to voluntarily extend their service obligation. Enlisted personnel can now potentially serve for up to 30 years, which would establish a continuously available core of soldiers from which the PLA could draw expertise and experience.
In the 1980s the PLA attempted to upgrade the quality of its inductees by changing recruiting practices. The PLA previously drew its recruits from rural youth of politically acceptable families. But the Military Service Law, the introduction of rural reforms offering greater economic opportunities for rural youth, and the PLA's requirements for higher educational levels caused recruitment to draw more recruits from better educated urban youth. Officers were drawn from military academy graduates; enlisted men and women who completed officer training in officially designated institutions and passed officer fitness tests; graduates of universities and special technical secondary schools; and civilian cadres and technical personnel recruited by nonmilitary units in the PLA. As a result of the new conscription and officer recruitment practices, the level of education in the PLA was much higher than that of the general population.
In 1987 approximately 100,000 women served in the PLA and represented one-tenth of the officer corps and one-quarter of the specialized technicians. Women served primarily in scientific research, communications, medical, and cultural units. Members of China's ethnic minorities also served in the PLA, but their percentage within the military was probably considerably lower than their proportion in the general population, partly because of their lower level of education and partly because government and party suspicion of their loyalties.
The Military Service Law stipulated changes in conditions of service. Compulsory terms of service were three years for the ground forces and four for the Air Force and Navy. Soldiers could elect another term of one or two years in the ground forces and one year in the Navy and Air Force. After completing five years of compulsory service, a soldier could switch to voluntary service and could serve an eight- to twelve-year term until the age of thirtyfive . The conscription law also made provisions for limited preferential treatment of service personnel and their families. However, military service was regarded by some as a hardship because of low pay, poor food, lowered marriage prospects, and difficulties in finding jobs after demobilization. To alleviate the unattractive aspects of military service and to help local economic development, the PLA instituted a program of dual-use training, whereby soldiers learned skills useful in civilian life in addition to military training.
China's draft revisions to the National Defense Law aimed to make Chinese military service a profession revered by the whole of society, which analysts said will guarantee that they better accomplish missions in emergencies, war and occasions in which national sovereignty, security and development interests are being harmed. If military personnel have a sense of honor, they can make even greater contributions to the country when a war breaks out and in safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests, analysts said.
Compared with the current defense law, the revised draft emphasized the guarantee of the status of military personnel, and proposes changing the clause "make military personnel a profession respected by the whole of society" to "make military personnel a profession revered by the whole of society." The draft revisions to the National Defense Law were soliciting opinions from the public until 19 November 2020.
"We should create an atmosphere in society in which servicemen and women are respected, heroism is advocated and sense of duty is encouraged, and not put things like money worship, which will corrupt society, above all else, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on 22 October 2020. " We must not take for granted the obligations of military personnel to fulfill their responsibilities during emergencies and wars. Only when they are truly respected by people in their hearts will there be unity between the people and the military, Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times.
On the basis of being loyal to the motherland, performing their duties, fighting bravely, not being afraid of sacrifice, and defending the security, honor and interests of the motherland, the revised draft adds that servicemen and women must be loyal to the Communist Party of China. Under this draft law, non-Party member military personnel must also be loyal to the CPC, which means they must be disciplined in the same way as Party members and not betray the Party.
China on 20 August 2021 updated its military service law with changes on the welfare of military personnel and the system of registration for military service. The amended law was scheduled to be enforced starting October 2021. One of the highlights of the amendment is the establishment of the predominant role of volunteers, or non-commissioned officers, in the military service system as this change will keep and attract more talented and professional personnel in military units that operate high technology equipment. This will then contribute to the modernization of the Chinese military.
With 65 articles and 11 chapters, the most recent amendment of China's military service law was adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. First adopted in 1984, the military service law has been amended in 1998, 2009, and 2011. Compared with the previous edition, the latest amendment made new adjustments to the welfare system of military personnel based on the economic and social development of the country as well as the development of national defense and the military.
The updated military service law also highlights the predominant role of volunteers in the military service system. As non-commissioned officers, they will become the main body of the Chinese military. Compared with conscripts who can only remain in active service for two years, volunteers can generally serve no more than 30 years or to the age of 55. Conscripts could become non-commissioned officers after approval and citizens with professional skills in non-military departments could also be recruited as non-commissioned officers.
By letting non-commissioned officers to become the main body, the Chinese military can attract more talented personnel and keep them for a longer time rather than letting them go after only two years, when they might just have mastered related skills, the expert said, noting that previously only a limited number of people could be approved to become non-commissioned officers.
With the goal of modernization, the Chinese military is acquiring more technology-intensive equipment, which requires stable, long-term service talents who are familiar with these technologies, the expert said, adding that by making this change, the latest amendment of the military service law will boost the combat capability and modernization of the Chinese military.
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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