Armed Forces Overview: The armed forces of China are officially and collectively known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The ground forces are referred to simply as the PLA, but the navy is called the PLA Navy and the air force is known as the PLA Air Force. The PLA’s independent strategic missile forces are often referred to as the PLA Second Artillery Corps. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Military Commission sets policy for the PLA. The commission, which is chaired by China’s president, Hu Jintao, has three vice chairmen, each a general in the PLA ground forces, and seven members representing various components of the PLA. Operational control is administered dually by the CCP Central Military Commission and the State Central Military Commission and the Ministry of National Defense. PLA headquarters is organized into the General Staff Department, General Political Department, General Logistics Department, and General Armaments Department. In 2004 active-duty forces totaled 2.2 million. Of these, an estimated 1.7 million are in the ground forces, 250,000 in the navy (including 26,000 naval aviation, 10,000 marines, and 28,000 coastal defense forces), an estimated 400,000 to 420,000 in the air force, and between 90,000 and 100,000 in the strategic missiles forces. There are an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 reservists and an estimated 1.5 million paramilitary forces in the People’s Armed Police.
The Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China is constitutionally different from the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party. According to Article 93 of the state constitution, the state Central Military Commission “directs the armed forces of the country and is composed of a chairman (currently Hu Jintao since June 2004), vice chairmen, and members, with terms running concurrently with the National People’s Congress. The commission is responsible to the NPC and its Standing Committee.
Foreign Military Relations: China sold US$800 million worth of arms and military equipment to a variety of nations in 2002, making it the world’s fifth largest arms supplier after the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, and France. Among its principal clients have been Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Yemen. China also provides military assistance to other countries, such as Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and Vanuatu. The China North Industries Group Corporation (CNGC, often called NORINCO), China’s main defense producer, has some 100 joint ventures and more than 80 overseas offices and branches in 30 countries and regions involved in military and dual-use technology production and sales. China is also a major arms buyer, mostly naval and air force equipment from Russia. In 2004 China gave unprecedented access to senior foreign military officers at a PLA military demonstration in Henan Province. Officers from 15 Asian nations and Russia were present.
China is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a joint effort with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The SCO was established as the Shanghai Five when the partners signed agreements on strengthening mutual trust in military fields in border areas in 1996 and on mutual reduction of military forces in border areas in 1997. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the entry of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces into Central Asia, the SCO was formed and members began to hold joint counterterrorism military exercises. In 2004 the SCO initiated a regional antiterrorism structure to crack down on various transnational terrorist and criminal activities. China also has held joint naval and counterterrorism exercises with Pakistan. The naval exercise occurred in the East China Sea and was the first such drill with a foreign counterpart, as Chinese sources put it, “in a non-traditional security field.” The antiterrorism exercise, which was held in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, involved border guards from both sides.
External Threat: While recognizing the problems of territorial disputes with its neighbors and the dangers of periodic tensions on the Korean Peninsula and across the Taiwan Strait, the main threat perceived by China is from the United States. Beijing sees the United States as maintaining its Cold War policy toward China and the Asia-Pacific region and stressing ideological differences and how they relate to security issues that cause concern in the region. Washington’s attitude, in turn, intensifies tension and leads to turmoil. Post-Soviet Russia is fairly benign in China’s view, and relations have improved significantly from the days of border conflicts and high-level tension. Concerns about the remilitarization of Japan also come to the fore on occasion. Transnational crime, terrorism, separatism, and contradictions among nations all contribute to security concerns for China.
Defense Budget: The defense budget for 2003 was estimated at US$22.4 billion. Defense expenditures for 2002 were estimated at US$48.4 billion but probably rose as high as US$51 billion when considering nondefense budget items that supported the defense establishment. At US$48.4 billion, China’s defense expenditures were a distant second in the world after the United States and just ahead of Russia, representing US$37 per capita or 4.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2002. Estimates for 2003 showed an increase to US$60 billion in defense expenditures, representing between 3.5 and 5 percent of GDP.
Major Military Units: The PLA ground forces are organized into 7 military regions (Shenyang in the northeast, Beijing in the north, Lanzhou in the west, Chengdu in the southwest, Guangzhou in the south, Jinan in central China, and Nanjing in the east), 28 provincial military districts, 4 garrison commands (coinciding with the centrally administered municipalities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and 21 integrated group armies. The group armies have strengths between 30,000 and 65,000 troops. Each group army typically has two or three infantry divisions, one armored division or brigade, one artillery division or brigade, one joint surface-to-air missile or antiaircraft artillery brigade or just an antiaircraft artillery brigade.
The PLA Navy is organized into North Sea (headquartered at Qingdao, Shandong Province), East Sea (headquartered at Ningbo, Zhejiang Province), and South Sea (headquartered at Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province) fleets. Each fleet has destroyer, submarine, and coastal patrol flotillas, as well as naval air stations and possibly amphibious flotillas. There are numerous major naval bases: the North Sea Fleet has 7, the East Sea Fleet 8, and the South Sea Fleet 16.
The PLA Air Force has 5 air corps and 32 air divisions. The major air force headquarters coincide with the seven military regions. The air force has more than 140 air bases and airfields, including ready access to China’s major regional and international airports.
The strategic missile forces, or Second Artillery Corps, are organized into six missile divisions based in the military regions, with the central headquarters at Qinghe, north of Beijing. There also are training and testing bases. The six operational bases had between 21 and 23 launch brigades in 2004.
Major Military Equipment: The PLA’s major ground forces equipment includes an estimated 7,000 main battle tanks, 1,200 light tanks, 5,000 armored personnel carriers, 14,000 pieces of towed artillery, 1,700 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 2,400 multiple-rocket launchers, 7,700 air defense guns, 6,500 antitank guided weapons, and unspecified numbers of mortars, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, recoilless rifles, rocket launchers, and antitank guns. The ground forces also have an estimated 321 helicopters and an unspecified number of unmanned air vehicles and surveillance aircraft.
Among its principal combatant ships, the navy has 68 submarines (many of which are slated for decommissioning in the mid-2000s). One is a Xia class submarine-launched ballistic missile (SSBN) force strategic-capability submarine. There are plans for more advanced SSBNs by the end of the decade. The navy also has an estimated 21 destroyers and 42 frigates, as well as 368 fast-attack craft, 39 mine warfare ships, 10 hovercraft, 6 troop transports, 19 landing-ship/tank ships, 37 medium landing ships, 45 utility landing craft, 10 air-cushioned landing craft, 163 support and miscellaneous craft, 8 submarine support ships, 4 salvage and repair ships, 29 supply ships, 1 multirole aviation ship, and about 700 land-based combat aircraft and 45 armed helicopters. China also has plans to launch a 40,000-ton aircraft carrier by 2010.
The PLA Air Force has some 1,900 combat aircraft, including armed helicopters. The inventory includes 180 bombers, more than 950 fighters and 838 ground attack fighters, an estimated 290 reconnaissance/electronic intelligence aircraft, an estimated 513 transports, an estimated 170 helicopters, some 200 training aircraft, and an unmanned aerial vehicle. Weapons include air-to-air missiles and ground-based air defense artillery using surface-to-air missiles and antiaircraft artillery.
The strategic missile forces have in their inventory 20 or more intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), between 130 and 150 intermediate-range ballistic missiles, one Xia class submarine carrying 12 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and about 335 or more short-range ballistic missiles.
Military Service: There is selective conscription of two years for all the services starting at age 18 for males. In 2004 there were some 136,000 women in the armed forces.
Paramilitary Forces: The principal paramilitary organization is the People’s Armed Police Force. There are militia forces of indeterminate strength under the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Once a critical part of Mao Zedong’s “people’s war” strategy, militia units are no longer an essential part of China’s military and have mostly disbanded.
Military Forces Abroad: In 2004 China deployed 95 riot police officers as part of a 125-member unit to Haiti for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a nation with which Beijing does not have diplomatic relations. As of that time, China had deployed 297 peacekeepers to five other nations, including East Timor, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Liberia, Afghanistan, and the autonomous province of Kosovo in Serbia and Montenegro. China also has sent peacekeeping observers to Ethiopia and Eritrea, various Middle Eastern countries, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and Western Sahara. It is a formal participant in the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN Mission in Sierra Leone, UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and UN Mission in Liberia.
Police and Internal Security: The security apparatus is made up of the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security, the People’s Armed Police, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the state judicial, procuratorial, and penal systems. The Ministry of Public Security oversees all domestic police activity in China, including the People’s Armed Police Force. The ministry is responsible for police operations and prisons, and has dedicated departments for internal political, economic, and communications security. Its lowest organizational units are public security stations, which maintain close day-to-day contact with the public. The People’s Armed Police Force, with its estimated total strength of 1.5 million personnel, is organized into 45 divisions. These include internal security police, border defense personnel, guards for government buildings and embassies, and police communications specialists.
The Ministry of State Security was established in 1983 to ensure “the security of the state through effective measures against enemy agents, spies, and counterrevolutionary activities designed to sabotage or overthrow China’s socialist system.” The ministry is guided by a series of laws enacted in 1993, 1994, and 1997 that replaced the so-called counterrevolutionary crime statutes. The ministry’s operations include intelligence collection, both domestic and foreign. Arrests on charges of revealing state secrets, subversion, and common crimes have been used by authorities to suppress political dissent and social advocacy.
Internal Threat and Terrorism: Although the outlawed Falun Gong movement is seen by the government as the major internal threat and its members are actively pursued by the People’s Armed Police Force, it is not classified as a terrorist group, and it has not committed or sponsored acts of violence. Muslim separatists in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region present China with its most significant terrorist threat, which emerged in the late 1980s. In 2003 Beijing published an “East Turkistan Terrorist List,” which labeled organizations such as the World Uighur Youth Congress and the East Turkistan Information Center as terrorist entities. These groups openly advocate independence for “East Turkestan” but have not been publicly linked to violent activity. The separatists have resorted to violence, bomb attacks, assassinations, and street fighting. Beijing responds to these attacks with police and military action. During the summer of 2004, elite troops from China and Pakistan held joint antiterrorism exercises in Xinjiang. The exercise was aimed against the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, an organization listed as terrorist by China, the United States, and the United Nations. This and other Uygur separatist groups reputedly were trained in Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban and al Qaeda. The East Turkistan Islamic Movement was established in 1990 and has links to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which operates throughout Central Asia. Premier Wen Jiabao joined leaders of other Asian and European nations in Hanoi for the October 2004 Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Hanoi, where the delegates reaffirmed their call for a war on terrorism led by the United Nations.
Human Rights: Article 34 of China’s constitution says that the “state respects and guarantees human rights” and that “every citizen is entitled to the rights and at the same time must perform the duties prescribed by the constitution and the law.” The following article guarantees “freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Compared to the earlier years of stringent rule by the Maoist regime, China’s citizens enjoy a much wider range of human rights and basic exercise of their constitutional freedoms. Although tightly regulated, the mass media are relatively more freewheeling than in the past. Economic reforms have brought a new measure of individual expression, wealth, and influence to some. Police reports from China indicate that the number and size of public protests have grown rapidly since the early 1990s. Such protests are now counted in the tens of thousands. For example, police recorded 32,000 protests in 1999 alone.
However, citizens cannot express opposition to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-led political system and do not have the right to change their national leaders or form of government. Socialism is still the theoretical basis of national politics and, although Marxist economic planning gave way to pragmatism, economic decentralization has increased the authority of local officials. The party’s authority rests primarily on the government’s ability to maintain social stability; appeals to nationalism and patriotism; party control of personnel, media, and the security apparatus; and continued improvement of living standards. Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, in practice the government and the CCP, at both the central and local levels, frequently intercede in the judicial process and direct verdicts in many high-profile cases. While the number of religious believers in China continues to increase, government respect for religious freedom has remained poor. The mass media are regulated and managed by the government, which controls the broadcast media, has censored foreign television broadcasts, and at times has jammed radio signals from abroad. In 2003 some publications were closed and otherwise disciplined for publishing material deemed objectionable by the government, and journalists, authors, academics, and researchers were reportedly harassed, detained, and arrested by the authorities.
Under party guidance, civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces, but, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of State, security personnel are responsible for numerous human rights abuses. Despite the growing number of protests that have occurred in China and continued legal reforms, in 2003 arrests took place of individuals discussing sensitive subjects on the Internet, health activists, labor protesters, defense lawyers, journalists, underground church members, and others seeking to take advantage of the government-fostered reforms. Abuses included instances of extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy incommunicado detention, and denial of due process. In the same year, more than 250,000 persons were incarcerated in “reeducation-through-labor” camps, serving sentences not subject to judicial review. Moreover, some 500 to 600 individuals were serving sentences for the now-repealed crime of counterrevolution, and an estimated 2,000 persons remained in prison in 2003 for their activities during the June 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations, which were violently suppressed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China has active human rights dialogues with numerous countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as with the European Union.