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The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is the unified military organization of all land, sea, and air forces of the People's Republic of Chinamarker. The PLA was established on August 1, 1927 — celebrated annually as "PLA Day" — as the military arm of the Communist Party of China (CCP). The People's Liberation Army's insignia consists of a roundel with a red star bearing the Chinese characters for "Eight One" referring to August 1 ( ), the date of the 1927 Nanchang Uprising.

The PLA is the world's largest military force, with approximately 3 million members (see List of countries by number of total troops), and has the world's largest (active) standing army, with approximately 2.25 million members (see List of countries by number of active troops). The PLA comprises five main service branches consisting of the PLA Ground Force, PLA Navy (PLAN), PLA Air Force (PLAAF), Second Artillery Corps (strategic nuclear or missile force), and the PLA Reserve Force. The People's Armed Police (PAP), a Chinese paramilitary force under the dual leadership of the Central Military Commission and the Ministry of Public Security, is sometimes confused as a branch of the PLA (both the PLA and the PAP are under the lead of Central Military Commission).

Military service is compulsory, in theory, for all men who attain the age of 18; women may register for duty in the medical, veterinary, and other technical services. However, a draft has never been enforced due to large numbers of volunteers. Demobilized servicemen are carried in a ready reserve, which is reinforced by a standby reserve of veterans and by the militia.

The PLA is formally under the command of the Central Military Commission of the CCP; there is also an identical commission in the government, but it has no clear independent functions. The Ministry of National Defense, which operates under the State Council, does not exercise any authority over the PLA and is far less powerful than the Central Military Commission (CMC). The ministry assures continuing CCP control over the armed forces, and its primary role is that of a liaison office with foreign militaries. The political and military leaderships has made a concerted effort to create a professional military force restricted to national defense and to the provision of assistance in domestic economic construction and emergency relief. This conception of the role of the PLA requires the promotion of specialized officer who can understand modern weaponry and handle combined arms operations. Troops around the country are stationed in seven military regions and more than 20 military districts.

President Hu Jintao has defined the missions of the PLA as:
  • Consolidate the ruling status of the Communist Party
  • Help ensure China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and domestic security in order to continue national development
  • Safeguard China’s expanding national interests
  • Help maintain world peace


The People's Liberation Army was founded on 1 August 1927 during the Nanchang Uprising when troops of the Kuomintang (KMT) rebelled under the leadership of Zhu De, He Long,Ye Jianying and Zhou Enlai shortly after the end of the first Kuomintang–Communist alliance. They were then known as the Chinese Red Army ( ). Between 1934 and 1935, the Red Army survived several campaigns led against it by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek and engaged in the Long March.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945, the Communist military forces were nominally integrated into the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of Chinamarker forming the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army units. During this time, these two military groups primarily used guerrilla warfare, but also fought several conventional battles with the Japanese and the Kuomintang.

After the end of the Sino-Japanese War, the Communist Party merged the two military groups and renamed the multi-million strong force the "People's Liberation Army" and eventually won the Chinese Civil War. During the 1950s, the PLA with Soviet help transformed itself from a peasant army into a modern one. In November 1950, the PLA or People's Volunteer Army intervened in the Korean War as United Nations forces under General Douglas MacArthur approached the Yalu River. Under the weight of this offensive, Chinese forces drove MacArthur's forces out of North Korea and captured Seoulmarker, but were subsequently pushed back to a line just north of the 38th Parallel. That war also served as a catalyst for rapid modernization of PLAAF. In 1962, the PLA also fought India in the Sino-Indian War which resulted in a swift victory.

Prior to the Cultural Revolution, military region commanders tended to remain in post for long periods. As the PLA took a stronger role in politics, this began to be seen as something of a threat to party (or, at least, civilian) control of the gun. The longest serving military region commanders were Xu Shiyou in the Nanjing Military Region (1954-74), Yang Dezhi in the Jinan Military Region (1958-74), Chen Xilian in the Shenyang Military Region (1959-73), and Han Xianchu in the Fuzhou Military Region (1960-74).

Establishment of a professional military force equipped with modern weapons and doctrine was the last of the Four Modernizations announced by Zhou Enlai and supported by Deng Xiaoping. In keeping with Deng's mandate to reform, the PLA has demobilized millions of men and women since 1978 and has introduced modern methods in such areas as recruitment and manpower, strategy, and education and training. In 1979, the PLA fought Vietnammarker over a border skirmish in the Sino-Vietnamese War where it was reported that China lost more than 20,000 soldiers. Both sides claimed victory.

In the 1980s, China shrunk its military considerably to free up resources for economic development, resulting in the relative decline in resources devoted to the PLA. Following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989marker, ideological correctness was temporarily revived as the dominant theme in Chinese military affairs. Reform and modernization have today resumed their position as the PLA's priority objectives, although the armed forces' political loyalty to the CCP has remained a leading concern. Another area of concern to the political leadership was the PLA's involvement in civilian economic activities. These activities were thought to have impacted PLA readiness and has led the political leadership to attempt to divest the PLA from its non-military business interests.

Beginning in the 1980s, the PLA tried to transform itself from a land-based power, centred on a vast ground force, to a smaller, mobile, high-tech one capable of mounting operations beyond its borders. The motivation for this was that a massive land invasion by Russia was no longer seen as a major threat, and the new threats to China are seen to be a declaration of independence by Taiwanmarker, possibly with assistance from the United States, or a confrontation over the Spratly Islandsmarker.

In 1985, under the leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the CMC, the PLA changed from being constantly prepared to "hit early, strike hard and to fight a nuclear war" to developing the military in an era of peace. The PLA reoriented itself to modernization, improving its fighting ability, and to become a world-class force.

Deng Xiaoping stressed that the PLA needed to focus more on quality rather than on quantity. The decision of the Chinese government in 1985 to reduce the size of the military by one million was completed by 1987. Staffing in military leadership was cut by about 50 percent. During the Ninth Five Year Plan (1996–2000) the PLA was reduced by a further 500,000. The PLA had also been expected to be reduced by another 200,000 by 2005. The PLA has focused on increasing mechanization and informatization so as to be able to fight a high-intensity war.

Jiang Zemin in 1990 called on the military to "meet political standards, be militarily competent, have a good working style, adhere strictly to discipline, and provide vigorous logistic support" ( ).

The 1991 Gulf War provided the Chinese leadership with a stark realization that the PLA was an oversized, obsolescent force. The possibility of a militarized Japan has also been a continuous concern to the Chinese leadership since the late 1990s. In addition, China's military leadership has been reacting to and learning from the successes and failures of the American military during the Kosovo War, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the ongoing Iraqi insurgency. All these lessons inspired China to transform PLA from a military based on quantity to one based on quality.

President Jiang Zemin officially made a "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA) part of the official national military strategy in 1993 in order to modernize the Chinese armed forces. A goal of the RMA is to transform the PLA into a force capable of winning what it calls "local wars under high-tech conditions" rather than a massive, numbers-dominated ground-type war. The Chinese military planners call for short decisive campaigns, limited in both their geographic scope and their political goals. In contrast to the past, more attention is given to reconnaissance, mobility, and deep reach. This new vision has shifted resources towards the navy and air force. PLA is also actively preparing for space warfare and cyber-warfare.

For the past 10 to 20 years, the PLA has acquired some advanced weapons systems from Russia, including Sovremenny class destroyers, Sukhoi Su-27 and Sukhoi Su-30 aircraft, and Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines. It has also completed several new destroyers and frigates including 2 AAW Type 052C class guided missile destroyers. In addition, the PLA has attempted to build an indigenous aerospace and military industry with its production of the J-10 fighter aircraft. The PLA launched the new Jin class nuclear submarines on 3 December 2004 capable of launching nuclear warheads that could strike targets across the Pacific Ocean.

Major wars and events


National Military Command

The state military system upholds the principle of the CCP's absolute leadership over the armed forces. The party and the State jointly established the CMC that carries out the task of supreme military leadership over the armed forces. The 1954 Constitution stated that the State President directs the armed forces and made the State President the chair of the Defense Commission (the Defense Commission is an advisory body, it does not lead the armed forces). On 28 September 1954, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party re-established the CMC as the leader of the PLA and the armed forces. From that time onwards, the system of joint system of party and state military leadership was established. The Central Committee of the Communist Party leads in all military affairs. The State President directs the state military forces and the development of the military forces managed by the State Council.

In order to ensure the absolute leadership of the Communist Party over the armed forces, every level of party committee in the military forces implements the principles of democratic centralism, the divisions and higher levels establish political commissars and political organizations, and ensures that the branch organizations are in line. These systems melded the party organization with the military organization in order to achieve the party's leadership and administrative leadership. This is the key guarantee to the absolute leadership of the party over the military.

Military Leadership

The leadership by the CCP is a fundamental principle of the Chinese military command system. The PLA reports not to the State Council but rather to two Central Military Commissions, one belonging to the state and one belonging to the party.

In practice, the two Central Military Commissions do not conflict each other because their membership is usually identical. Often, the only difference in membership between the two occurs for a few months every five years, during the period between a Party Congress, when Party CMC membership changes, and the next ensuing National People's Congress, when the State CMC changes. The CMC carries out its responsibilities according to the authority given to it by the Constitution and National Defense Law.

On 11 November 1949, the Air Force leadership structure was established and the Navy leadership the following April. In 1950, the leadership structures of the artillery, armored troops, air defense troops, public security forces, and worker–soldier militias were also established. Later established were the leadership organizations of other forces such as the chemical warfare defense forces, the railroad forces, the communications forces, and the second artillery.

The leadership of each type of military force is under the leadership and management of the corresponding part of the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. Forces under each military branch or force such as the subordinate forces, academies and schools, scientific research and engineering institutions, logistical support organizations, are also under the leadership of the CMC. This arrangement has been especially useful as China over the past several decades has moved increasingly towards military organizations composed of forces from more than one military branch. In September 1982, in order to meet the needs of modernization and to improve coordination in the command of forces including multiple service branches and to strengthen unified command of the military, the CMC ordered that the leadership organization of the various military branches be abolished. The PLA now has Air Force, Navy and Second Artillery leadership organs.

In 1986, the People's Armed Forces Department, except in some border regions, was put under the joint leadership of the PLA and the local authorities. Although the local party organizations paid close attention to the People's Armed Forces Department, as a result of some practical problems, the CMC decided that after 1 April 1996, the People's Armed Forces Department will be once again be under the PLA.

Central Military Commission

In December 1982, the fifth National People's Congress revised the State Constitution to provide that the State Central Military Commission leads all the armed forces of the state. The chair of the State CMC is chosen and removed by the full NPC while the other members are chosen by the NPC Standing Committee. However, the CMC of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party remained the party organization that directly leads the military and all the other armed forces.

In actual practice, the party CMC, after consultation with the democratic parties, proposes the names of the State CMC members of the NPC so that these people after going through the legal processes can be elected by the NPC to the State Central Military Commission. That is to say, that the CMC of the Central Committee and the CMC of the State are one group and one organization. However, looking at it organizationally, these two CMCs are subordinate to two different systems – the party system and the State system. Therefore the armed forces are under the absolute leadership of the Communist Party and are also the armed forces of the state. This is unique joint leadership system reflects the origin of the PLA as the military branch of the Communist Party. It only became the national military when the People's Republic was established in 1949.

By convention, the chairman and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission are civilian members of the Communist Party of China, but they are not necessarily the heads of the civilian government. Both Jiang Zemin and Deng Xiaoping retained the office of chairman even after relinquishing their other positions. All of the other members of the CMC are uniformed active military officials. As with other nations, the Ministry of National Defense is not the head of the military, but is usually a vice chairman of the CMC.

PLA General HQ

The PLA General Headquarters are composed of the following departments:

The GPD maintains a system of political commissars which maintain a separate chain of command to ensure loyalty to the party and the civilian government. The CMC exercises leadership over the military regions, the Navy and the Air Force and the Second Artillery through the four general departments.

Within a military region, the three service branches are coordinated in the battle operations under the unified command of the military district. The Second Artillery is however under the direct leadership of the CMC. The army units in a military region are under the leadership of that military region. The navy and air force troops in a military region are under the joint leadership of the military region and their service branch.

Military leadership

According to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, the CMC is composed of the following: the Chairman; the Vice-Chairmen; and Members. The Chairman of the Central Military Commission has overall responsibility for the commission.

As of Mar.2008:


Vice Chairmen:
  • Executive Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission – General Guo Boxiong
  • Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission – General Xu Caihou


Military region

PLA military regions (1996)

Under the General Staff Headquarters are the seven military regions:

The PLA garrisons in Hong Kong and Macau are both under the administration of the Guangzhou MR.

The organization into Military Area Commands (MAC) has been much criticized as being obsolete and irrelevant in the 21st century, and there has been wide speculation that the system might be drastically altered in the next several years. Coordination with civilian national security groups such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is achieved primarily by the leading groups of the Communist Party of China. Particularly important are the leading groups on foreign affairs and Taiwan.

Service branches

The PLA encompasses five main service branches: Ground Force, the Navy, the Air Force, the Second Artillery (strategic missile force), and the People's Armed Police. Following the 200,000 troop reduction from 2003 to 2005, the total end-strength of the PLA has been reduced from 2.5 million to 2.3 million. There are 660,000 personnel serving in the People's Armed Police (PAP), and 1.2-1.5 million in the reserve forces and militia.

The PLA has paid close attention to the performance of the US armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. As well as learning from the success of the US military in network-centric warfare, joint operations, C4ISR, and hi-tech weaponry, the PLA is also studying the unconventional tactics that could be used to exploit the vulnerabilities of a more technologically-advanced enemy. This has been reflected in the two parallel guidelines for the PLA ground forces development. While speeding up the process of introducing new technology into the force and retiring the older equipment, the PLA has also placed an emphasis on asymmetric warfare, including finding methods of using existing equipment to defeat a technologically superior enemy.

PLA Ground Force

The PLA deploys the world's largest ground force, currently totaling some 1.6 million personnel, or about 70 percent of the PLA's total manpower (2.3 million). The ground forces are divided among the seven military regions as named above.

The regular forces of the ground forces consist of 18 Group Armies, which are corps-size combined arms units each with approximately 30,000-65,000 personnel. The group armies contain, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies's 2006 Military Balance, among them 9 armored divisions, 3 mechanized infantry divisions, 24 motorized infantry divisions, 15 infantry divisions, two amphibious assault divisions, one mechanized infantry brigade, 22 motorized infantry brigades, 12 armored brigades, 7 artillery divisions, 14 artillery brigades, 19 anti-aircraft artillery missile brigades, and 10 army aviation (helicopter) regiments (two training).

In times of crisis, the PLA Ground Force will be reinforced by numerous reserve and paramilitary units. The PLA reserve component has about 1.2-1.5 million personnel divided into 30 infantry, and 12 anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) divisions. In addition, approximately 1.1 million armored personnel carriers (APC). Two amphibious mechanized divisions were also created in Nanjing and Guangzhou MR. At least 40 percent of PLA divisions and brigades are now mechanized or armored, almost double the percentage before the reduction.

While much of the PLA Ground Force was being reduced over the past few years, technology-intensive elements such as special operations forces (SOF), army aviation (helicopters), surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and electronic warfare units have all been rapidly expanded. The latest operational doctrine of the PLA ground forces highlights the importance of information technology, electronic and information warfare, and long-range precision strikes in future warfare. The older generation telephone/radio-based command, control, and communications (C3) systems are being replaced by an integrated battlefield information networks featuring local/wide-area networks (LAN/WAN), satellite communications, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based surveillance and reconnaissance systems, and mobile command and control centers.

PLA Navy

Sailors shown in 2009 during 60th anniversary celebrations of the PLAN.

Until the early 1990s, the navy performed a subordinate role to the PLA Land Forces. Since then it has undergone rapid modernization. The 250,000-man People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is organized into three major fleets: the North Sea Fleet headquartered at Qingdaomarker, the East Sea Fleet headquartered at Ningbomarker, and the South Sea Fleet headquartered in Zhanjiangmarker. Each fleet consists of a number of surface ship, submarine, naval air force, coastal defense, and marine units.

The navy includes 35,000 Coastal Defense Force and 56,000 Naval infantry/Marines (two multi-arm marine brigades), plus a 56,000 PLAN Aviation naval air arm operating several hundred land-based aircraft and ship-based helicopters. As part of its overall program of naval modernization, the PLAN has been developing a blue water navy. The Navy also utilises the CJ-10 naval cruise missile system, which made its first public appearance during late 2009.

PLA Air Force

The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), with some 250,000 personnel and 2300 Fighters and Attackers, is organized into seven Military Region Air Forces (MRAF) and 24 Air Divisions. It is the largest air force in Asia-Pacific region and the third largest in the world (after the USAF and the Russian Air Force). The largest operational units within the Aviation Corps is the air division, which has 2 to 3 aviation regiments, each with 20 to 36 aircraft. The surface-to-air missile (SAM) Corps is organized into SAM divisions and brigades. There are also three airborne divisions manned by the PLAAF.

Second Artillery Corps

The Second Artillery Corps (SAC) is the strategic missile forces of the PLA. First It controls China's nuclear and conventional strategic missiles. China's total nuclear arsenal size is estimated to be between 100 and 400 nuclear weapons. The SAC has approximately 90,000-120,000 personnel and six ballistic missile divisions (missile corps bases). The six divisions are independently deployed in different military regions and have a total of 15 to 20 missile brigades.

People's Armed Police

The PAP is the paramilitary force primarily responsible for law enforcement and internal security and is under a unique dual-leadership system of the Central Military Commission and local public security bureaus (local police departments). The PAP was formed in 1983 when the PLA transferred its internal security and border defense responsibilities to the Ministry of Public Security. In wartime, the PAP, as part of China's armed forces, would be used as light infantry, performing border defense and other support functions to assist the regular ground forces.

In general, the PLA regular forces' main purpose is national defense and has rarely been used for internal security or police functions. Most such issues in the country however are handled by the paramilitary People's Armed Police. The instances in which the PLA has been used for non-military internal security duties have included several incidents during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, Tibet in 1989, and with the Tiananmen Protests of 1989marker. Many times, the PLA has been involved in flood relief operations, particularly in the Yellow Rivermarker region.

Conscription and terms of service

PLA recruits training.
Technically, military service with the PLA is obligatory for all Chinese citizens. However, in practice it is entirely voluntary; because of China's large population and therefore the large number of individuals who volunteer to join the regular armed forces, a draft has never been enforced. All 18-year-olds have to register themselves with the government authorities, in a way similar to the Selective Service System of the United States. The main exception to this system applies to potential university students (male and female), who are required to undergo military training (usually for the duration of one to four weeks) before or one year after their courses have commenced.

Conscription is enshrined in Article 55 of the Constitution, which states: "It is a sacred duty of every citizen of the People's Republic of China to defend his or her motherland and resist invasion. It is an honoured obligation of the citizens of the People's Republic of China to perform military service and to join the militia forces." The present legal basis of conscription is the 1984 Military Service Law, which describes military service as a duty for "all citizens without distinction of race... and religious creed." This law has not been amended since it came into effect.

Conscription has, therefore, only existed officially since the establishment of the Republic in 1949, and, theoretically, all Chinese citizens have had the duty of performing military service. Technically, those 18–22 years of age enter selective compulsory military service, with a 24-month service obligation. This includes 18–19 years of age for women high school graduates who meet requirements for specific military jobs.

Military service is normally performed in the regular armed forces, but the 1984 law does allow for conscription into the reserve forces. Hong Kong and Macau SAR residents however, as of 1997 and 1999 are exempted from joining the military.

Military intelligence

General Staff Department

The General Staff Department carries out staff and operational functions for the PLA and had major responsibility for implementing military modernization plans. Headed by the chief of general staff, the department served as the headquarters for the ground forces and contained directorates for the three other armed services: Air Force, Navy, and Strategic Missile Force. The General Staff Department included functionally organized subdepartments for artillery, armored units, engineering, operations, training, intelligence, mobilization, surveying, communications, quartermaster services, and politics.

Navy Headquarters controlled the North Sea Fleet, East Sea Fleet, and South Sea Fleet. Air Force Headquarters generally exercised control through the commanders of the seven military regions. Nuclear forces were directly subordinate to the General Staff Department. Conventional main, regional, and militia units were controlled administratively by the military region commanders, but the General Staff Department in Beijing could assume direct operational control of any main-force unit at will. Thus, broadly speaking, the General Staff Department exercises operational control of the main forces, and the military region commanders controlled the regional forces and, indirectly, the militia.

The post of principal intelligence official in the top leadership of the Chinese military has been taken up by a number of people of several generations, from Li Kenong in the 1950s to Xiong Guangkai in the late 1990s; and their public capacity has always been assistant to the deputy chief of staff or assistant to the chief of staff.

Ever since the CPC officially established the system of "major military regions" for its army in the 1950s, the intelligence agencies inside the Army have, after going through several major evolutions, developed into the present three major military intelligence setups.

  • The central level is composed of the Second and Third Departments under the PLA General Staff Headquarters and the Liaison Department under the PLA General Political Department.
  • At the major military regions intelligence activities consist of the Second Bureau established at the same level as the Operation Department under the Headquarters, and the Liaison Department established under the Political Department.
  • The third system includes a number of communications stations directly established in the garrison areas of all the major military regions by the Third Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters.

The Second Bureau under the Headquarters and the Liaison Department under the Political Department of major military regions are only subjected to the "professional leadership" of their "counterpart" units under the Central Military Commission and are still considered the direct subordinate units of the major military region organizationally.

Those entities whose names include the word "institute," all research institutes under the charge of the Second and the Third Departments of the PLA General Staff Headquarters, including other research organs inside the Army, are at least of the establishment size of the full regimental level.

Among the deputy commanders or deputy chiefs of staff of a major military region in China, there is always one who is assigned to take charge of intelligence work, and the intelligence agencies under his charge are directly affiliated to the headquarters and the political department of the military region.

The Conference on Strengthening Intelligence Work held from 3 September 1996 – 18 September, 1996 at the Xishan Command Center of the Ministry of State Securitymarker and the General Staff Department. Chi Haotian delivered a report entitled "Strengthen Intelligence Work in a New International Environment To Serve the Cause of Socialist Construction." The report emphasized the need to strengthen the following four aspects of intelligence work:

  • Efforts must be made to strengthen understanding of the special nature and role of intelligence work, as well as understanding of the close relationship between strengthening intelligence work on the one hand, and of the Four Modernizations of the motherland, the reunification of the motherland, and opposition to hegemony and power politics on the other.
  • The United States and the West have all along been engaged in infiltration, intervention, sabotage, and intelligence gathering against China on the political, economic, military, and ideological fronts. The response must strengthen the struggle against their infiltration, intervention, sabotage, and intelligence gathering.
  • Consolidating intelligence departments and training a new generation of intelligence personnel who are politically reliable, honest and upright in their ways, and capable of mastering professional skills, the art of struggle, and advanced technologies.
  • Strengthening the work of organizing intelligence in two international industrial, commercial, and financial ports—Hong Kong and Macau.

Although the four aspects emphasized by Chi Haotian appeared to be defensive measures, they were in fact both defensive and offensive in nature.

Second Department

The Second Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters is responsible for collecting military intelligence. Activities include military attachés at Chinese embassies abroad, clandestine special agents sent to foreign countries to collect military information, and the analysis of information publicly published in foreign countries.

The Second Department oversees military human intelligence (HUMINT) collection, widely exploits open source materials, fuses HUMINT, signals intelligence (SIGINT), and imagery intelligence data, and disseminates finished intelligence products to the CMC and other consumers. Preliminary fusion is carried out by the Second Department's Analysis Bureau which mans the National Watch Center, the focal point for national-level indications and warning. In-depth analysis is carried out by regional bureaus.

Although traditionally the Second Department of the General Staff Department was responsible for military intelligence, it is beginning to increasingly focus on scientific and technological intelligence in the military field, following the example of Russian agencies in stepping up the work of collecting scientific and technological information.

The research institute under the Second Department of the General Staff Headquarters is publicly known as the Institute for International Strategic Studies; its internal classified publication "Movements of Foreign Armies" (Wai Jun Dongtai) is published every 10 days and transmitted to units at the division level.

The PLA Institute of International Relations at Nanjingmarker comes under the Second Department of the General Staff Department and is responsible for training military attaches, assistant military attaches and associate military attaches as well as secret agents to be posted abroad. It also supplies officers to the military intelligence sections of various military regions and group armies. The Institute was formed from the PLA "793" Foreign Language Institute, which moved from Zhangjiakoumarker after the Cultural Revolution and split into two institutions at Luoyangmarker and Nanjingmarker.

The Institute of International Relations was known in the 1950s as the School for Foreign Language Cadres of the Central Military Commission, with the current name being used since 1964. The training of intelligence personnel is one of several activities at the Institute. While all graduates of the Moscow Institute of International Relationsmarker were employed by the KGBmarker, only some graduates of the Beijing Institute of International Relations are employed by the Ministry of State Security. The former Institute of International Relations, since been renamed the Foreign Affairs College, is under the administration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is not involved in secret intelligence work. The former Central Military Commission foreign language school had foreign faculty members who were either Communist Party sympathizers or were members of foreign communist parties. But the present Institute of International Relations does not hire foreign teachers, to avoid the danger that its students might be recognized when sent abroad as clandestine agents.

Those engaged in professional work in military academies under the Second Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters usually have a chance to go abroad, either for advanced studies or as military officers working in the military attache's office of Chinese embassies in foreign countries. People working in the military attache's office of embassies are usually engaged in collecting military information under the cover of "military diplomacy". As long as they refrain from directly subversive activities, they are considered as well-behaved "military diplomats."

Some bureaus under the Second Department which are responsible for espionage in different regions, of which the First Bureau is responsible for collecting information in Taiwanmarker, Hong Kong and Macaumarker. Agents are dispatched by the Second Department to companies and other local corporations to gain cover.

The "Autumn Orchid" intelligence group assigned to Hong Kong and Macau in the mid-1980s mostly operated in the mass media, political, industrial, commercial, and religious circles, as well as in universities and colleges. The "Autumn Orchid" intelligence group was mainly responsible for the following three tasks:

  • Finding out and keeping abreast of the political leanings of officials of the Hong Kong and Macau governments, as well as their views on major issues, through social contact with them and through information provided by them.
  • Keeping abreast of the developments of foreign governments' political organs in Hong Kong, as well as of foreign financial, industrial, and commercial organizations.
  • Finding out and having a good grasp of the local media's sources of information on political, military, economic, and other developments on the mainland, and deliberately releasing false political or military information to the media to test the outside response.

The "Autumn Orchid" intelligence group was awarded a Citation for Merit, Second Class, in December 1994. It was further awarded another Citation for Merit, Second Class, in 1997. Its current status is not publicly known. During the 2008 Chinese New Year celebration CCTV held for Chinese diplomatic establishments, the head of the Second Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters was revealed for the first time to the public: the current head was Major General Yang Hui (杨晖), the former deputy head of the Third Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters (he was a senior colonel when he held that position).

Third Department

The Third Department of the General Staff Headquarters is responsible for monitoring the telecommunications of foreign armies and producing finished intelligence based on the military information collected.

The communications stations established by the Third Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters are not subject to the jurisdiction of the provincial military district and the major military region of where they are based. The communications stations are entirely the agencies of the Third Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters which have no affiliations to the provincial military district and the military region of where they are based. The personnel composition, budgets, and establishment of these communications stations are entirely under the jurisdiction of the Third Department of the General PLA General Staff Headquarters, and are not related at all with local troops.

China maintains the most extensive SIGINT network of all the countries in the Asia-Pacific region. As of the late 1990s, SIGINT systems included several dozen ground stations, half a dozen ships, truck-mounted systems, and airborne systems. Third Department headquarters is located in the vicinity of the GSD First Department (Operations Department), AMS, and NDU complex in the hills northwest of the Summer Palacemarker. As of the late 1990s, the Third Department was allegedly manned by approximately 20,000 personnel, with most of their linguists trained at the Luoyang Institute of Foreign Languages.

Ever since the 1950s, the Second and Third Departments of the PLA General Staff Headquarters have established a number of institutions of secondary and higher learning for bringing up "special talents." The PLA Foreign Language Institute at Luoyangmarker comes under the Third Department of the General Staff Department and is responsible for training foreign language officers for the monitoring of foreign military intelligence. The Institute was formed from the PLA "793" Foreign Language Institute, which moved from Zhangjiakou after the Cultural Revolution and split into two institutions at Luoyang and Nanjing.

Though the distribution order they received upon graduation indicated the "PLA General Staff Headquarters," many of the graduates of these schools found themselves being sent to all parts of the country, including remote and uninhabited backward mountain areas. The reason is that the monitoring and control stations under the Third Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters are scattered in every corner of the country.

The communications stations located in the Shenzhenmarker base of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison started their work long ago. In normal times, these two communications stations report directly to the Central Military Commission and the PLA General Staff Headquarters. Units responsible for coordination are the communications stations established in the garrison provinces of the military regions by the Third Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters.

By taking direct command of military communications stations based in all parts of the country, the CPC Central Military Commission and the PLA General Staff Headquarters can not only ensure a successful interception of enemy radio communications, but can also make sure that none of the wire or wireless communications and contacts among major military regions can escape the detection of these communications stations, thus effectively attaining the goal of imposing a direct supervision and control over all major military regions, all provincial military districts, and all group armies.

Monitoring stations

China's main SIGINT effort is in the Third Department of the General Staff Department of the Central Military Commission, with additional capabilities, primarily domestic, in the Ministry of State Security (MSS). SIGINT stations, therefore, are scattered through the country, for domestic as well as international interception. Prof. Desmond Ball, of the Australian National Universitymarker, described the largest stations as the main Technical Department SIGINT net control station on the northwest outskirts of Beijing, and the large complex near Lake Kinghathu in the extreme northeast corner of China

As opposed to other major powers, China focuses its SIGINT activities on its region rather than the world. Ball wrote, in the eighties, that China had several dozen SIGINT stations aimed at Russia, Japan, Taiwanmarker, Southeast Asia and India, as well as internally.

Of the stations apparently targeting Russia, there are sites at Jilemutu and Jiximarker in the northeast, and at Erlian and Hami near the Mongolianmarker border. Two Russian-facing sites in Xinjiang, at Qitai and Korlamarker may be operated jointly with resources from the US CIA's Office of SIGINT Opeations, probably focused on missile and space activity.

Other stations aimed at South and Southeast Asia are on a net controlled by Chengdumarker, Sichuan. There is a large facility at Dayi, and, according to Ball, "numerous" small posts along the Indian border.

Other significant facilities are located near Shenyangmarker, near Jinanmarker and in Nanjingmarker and Shanghai. Additional stations are in the Fujianmarker and Guangdongmarker military districts opposite Taiwan.

On Hainan Islandmarker, near Vietnammarker, there is a naval SIGINT facility that monitors the South China sea, and a ground station targeting US and Russian satellites. China also has ship and aircraft platforms in this area, under the South Sea Fleet headquarters at Zhanjiangmarker immediately north of the island. Targeting here seems to have an ELINT as well as COMINT flavor.

There are also truck-mounted mobile ground systems, as well as ship, aircraft, and limited satellite capability. There are at least 10 intelligence-gathering auxiliary vessels.

As of the late nineties, the Chinese did not appear to be trying to monitor the US Pacific Command to the same extent as does Russia. In future, this had depended, in part, on the status of Taiwan.

Fourth Department

The Fourth Department (ECM and Radar) of the General Staff Headquarters Department has the electronic intelligence (ELINT) portfolio within the PLA's SIGINT apparatus. This department is responsible for electronic countermeasures, requiring them to collect and maintain data bases on electronic signals. 25 ELINT receivers are the responsibility of the Southwest Institute of Electronic Equipment (SWIEE). Among the wide range of SWIEE ELINT products is a new KZ900 airborne ELINT pod. The GSD 54th Research Institute supports the ECM Department in development of digital ELINT signal processors to analyze parameters of radar pulses.

Liaison Department

The PLA General Political Department (GPD) maintains the CPC structure that exists at every level of the PLA. It is responsible for overseeing the political education, indoctrination and discipline that is a prerequisite for advancement within the PLA. The GPD controls the internal prison system of the PLA.

The International Liaison Department of the General Political Department is publicly known as the "China Association for International Friendly Contacts". The department prepares political and economic information for the reference of the Political Bureau. The department conducts ideological and political work on foreign armies, explaining China's policies, and disintegrate enemy armies by dampening their morale. It is also tasked with instigating rebellions and disloyalty within the Taiwan military and other foreign militaries.

The Liaison Office has dispatched agents to infiltrate Chinese-funded companies and private institutions in Hong Kong. Their mission is counter-espionage, monitoring their own agents, and preventing and detecting foreign intelligence services buying off Chinese personnel.

Special Forces

China's counterterrorist unit is drawn from the police force rather than the military. The name changes frequently, but as of this writing, it is known as the Immediate Action Unit (IAU). The Chinese Army fields large number of special operations groups and would appear to have a vast pool of manpower to choose from. However, it is believed that any significant terrorist activity within Chinese borders would draw the attention of the IAU.

China has reportedly developed a force capable of carrying out long-range air-borne operations, long-range reconnaissance, and amphibious operations. Formed in China's Guangzhou military region and known by the nickname "Sword of Southern China", the force supposedly receives army, air force and naval training, including flight training, and is equipped with "hundreds of high-tech devices", including global-positioning satellite systems. All of the force's officers have completed military staff colleges, and 60 percent are said to have university degrees. Soldiers are reported to be cross-trained in various specialties, and training is supposed to encompass a range of operational environments. It is far from clear whether this unit is considered operational by the Chinese. It is also not clear how such a force would be employed. Among the missions mentioned were "responding to contingencies in various regions" and "cooperating with other services in attacks on islands". According to the limited reporting, the organization appears to be in a phase of testing and development and may constitute an experimental unit. While no size for the force has been revealed, there have been Chinese media claims that "over 4000 soldiers of the fore are all-weather and versatile fighters and parachutists who can fly airplanes and drive auto vehicles and motor boats".

Other branches

  • The Third Department and the Navy cooperate on shipborne intelligence collection platforms.
  • PLAAF Sixth Research Institute: Air Force SIGINT collection is managed by the PLAAF Sixth Research Institute in Beijing.

Weapons and equipment

Range of medium and intercontinental ballistic missiles.


It is believed the PLA have already begun engaging countries using cyber-warfare.


China has been developing C4ISTAR and purchasing precision-guided munitions.


Since the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, the Chinese received massive amounts of weaponry and equipment as well as the capability to build their own weapons from the Soviet Unionmarker before the Sino-Soviet split in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Most of the firearms that the PLA used in both the past and the present have their origins in many Soviet or Russian small arms like the Mosin-Nagant series rifles and carbines (the Chinese made the Russian Mosin-Nagant M-1944 carbine under licence as the Type 53 Carbine), the SKS carbine, the AK-47 assault rifle, the RPD light-machine gun, the Tokarev TT33 pistol, the DShK heavy machine gun.

The PLA's main infantry rifle is the recently issued QBZ-95. It is a replacement for the Type 81, which bears similarities to the AK-47. The PLA also utilise locally-manufactured versions of the Russian AK-47 series rifles and SKS series carbines with the Chinese Type 56 Assault Rifle (a locally-produced version of the AK-47) and the Chinese Type 56 Carbine (a locally produced version of the SKS). Despite being similar to the original Russian-made AK-47s and SKSs, both the Chinese Type 56 Assault Rifle and the Chinese Type 56 Carbine have a number of differences which separate them from their original Russian counterparts. One example of the difference is that the Chinese Type 56 Assault Rifle has a permanently-attached, stiletto-style bayonet under the barrel of the rifle, a feature that is native to many Chinese-made AK-47s. The Chinese Type 56 Carbine is also different from the original Russian-made SKS carbines with the Chinese SKSs also utilising a stilletto-style bayonet like the Chinese Type 56 Assault Rifle while the original Russian-made SKS carbines utilised a sword-style bayonet.

The Chinese Type 56 was mass produced from the 1960s to the 1980s and was exported to many countries around the world. Despite the introduction of newer rifles like the Type 81 and the QBZ-95, the Chinese Type 56/AK-47 rifles are still used by some PLA second-line and training units. However, the Chinese Type 56/SKS carbines have been retained for ceremonial duties by the PLA in the same manner as the SKS has been retained for ceremonial duties in the Russian armed forces. The PLA and police forces are widely equipped with the Type 54, 7.62 mm pistol, although newer and better versions exist. The newest pistol in service is the QSZ-92 pistol.

Land-based weapons

The PLA's tank inventory was numbered around 10,000 during its peak time in the 1980s and 1990s, but this is estimated to have been reduced to 7,000, operating in 11 armored brigades. The Chinese-produced versions of the Soviet T-54A (Type 59 and Type 69) account for over two-thirds of the total PLA tank inventory. While retiring some of the older Type 59/69 series and replacing them with the second generation Type 88 and Type 96, the PLA is also upgrading the remaining Type 59/69 series tanks with new technologies including improved communication and fire-control systems, night vision equipment, explosive reactive armor, improved powerplant, and gun-fired anti-tank missiles so that they can remain in service as mobile fire-support platforms. The newest tank is the Type 99, which entered PLA service in 2001.

The PLA also operates about 2,000 light tanks including the Type 62 light tank and the Type 63 amphibious tank, both of which entered production in the 1960s. The Type 63 has now been upgraded with the addition of the improved Type 63A featuring computerized fire-control, gun-fired anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), night vision equipment, satellite navigation, and improved powerplant.

Nuclear weapons

In 1955, China decided to proceed with a nuclear weapons program. The decision was made after the United States threatened the use of nuclear weapons against China should it take action against Quemoymarker and Matsumarker, coupled with the lack of interest of the Soviet Unionmarker for using its nuclear weapons in defense of China.

After their first nuclear test (China claims minimal Soviet assistance before 1960) on 16 October 1964, China was the first state to pledge no-first-use of nuclear weapons. On 1 July 1966, the Second Artillery Corps (as named by Premier Zhou Enlai) was formed. In 1967, China tested a fully-functional hydrogen bomb, only 32 months after China had made its first fission device. China thus produced the shortest fission-to-fusion development known in history.

China became a major international arms exporter during the 1980s. Beijing joined the Middle East arms control talks, which began in July 1991 to establish global guidelines for conventional arms transfers, and later announced that it would no longer participate because of the U.S. decision to sell 150 F-16A/B aircraft to Taiwan on 2 September 1992.

It joined the International Atomic Energy Agencymarker (IAEA) in 1984 and pledged to abstain from further atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in 1986. China acceded to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1992 and supported its indefinite and unconditional extension in 1995. In 1996, it signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and agreed to seek an international ban on the production of fissile nuclear weapons material.

In 1996, China committed to provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. China attended the May 1997 meeting of the NPT Exporters (Zangger) Committee as an observer and became a full member in October 1997. The Zangger Committee is a group which meets to list items that should be subject to IAEA inspections if exported by countries, which have, as China has, signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In September 1997, China issued detailed nuclear export control regulations. China began implementing regulations establishing controls over nuclear-related dual-use items in 1998. China also has decided not to engage in new nuclear cooperation with Iranmarker (even under safeguards), and will complete existing cooperation, which is not of proliferation concern, within a relatively short period. Based on significant, tangible progress with China on nuclear nonproliferation, President Clinton in 1998 took steps to bring into force the 1985 U.S.–China Agreement on Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation.

Beijing has deployed a modest ballistic missile force, including land and sea-based intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). It is estimated that China has about 100-160 liquid fueled ICBMs capable of striking the United States with approximately 100–150 IRBMs able to strike Russia or Eastern Europe. China also possesses several hundred tactical SRBMs with ranges between 300 and 600 km.

China's nuclear program follows a doctrine of minimal deterrence, which involves having the minimum force needed to deter an aggressor from launching a first strike. The current efforts of China appear to be aimed at maintaining a survivable nuclear force by, for example, using solid-fueled ICBMs in silos rather than liquid-fueled missiles. China's 2006 published deterrence policy claims that they will "uphold the principles of counterattack in self-defense and limited development of nuclear weapons", but "has never entered, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any country". It goes on to describe that China will never undertake a first strike, or use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state or zone. US strategists, however, suggest that the Chinese position may be ambiguous, and nuclear weapons may be used both to deter conventional strikes/invasions on the Chinese mainland, or as an international political tool - limiting the extent to which other nations can coerce China politically, an inherent, often inadvertent phenomenon in international relations as regards any state with nuclear capabilities.

Chemical weapons

China is not a member of the Australia Group, an informal and voluntary arrangement made in 1985 to monitor developments in the proliferation of dual-use chemicals and to coordinate export controls on key dual-use chemicals and equipment with weapons applications. In April 1997, however, China ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and, in September 1997, promulgated a new chemical weapons export control directive.


The PLA has started the development of an anti-ballistic and anti-satellite system in the 1960s, code named Project 640, including ground based lasers, and anti-satellite missiles. On 11 January 2007 China conducted a successful test of an anti-satellite missile, with an SC-19 class KKV.

Space-based system

The PLA has deployed a number of space-based systems for military purposes, including the imagery intelligence satellite systems like the ZiYan series, and the militarily designated JianBing series, synthetic aperture satellites (SAR) such as JianBing-5, BeiDou satellite navigation network, and secured communication satellites with FENGHUO-1.

Manned spaceflight

The PLA is responsible for the Chinese space program. To date, all the participants have been selected from members of the PLA Air Force. China became the third country in the world to have sent a man into space by its own means with the flight of Yang Liwei aboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft on 15 October 2003 and the flight of Fèi Jùnlóng and Niè Hǎishèng aboard Shenzhou 6 on 12 October 2005 and Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming, and Jing Haipeng aboard Shenzhou 7 on 25 September 2008.

Missile technology control regime

While not formally joining the regime, in March 1992, China undertook to abide by the guidelines and parameters of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the multinational effort to restrict the proliferation of missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. China reaffirmed this commitment in 1994 and pledged not to transfer MTCR-class ground-to-ground missiles. In November 2000, China committed to not assist in any way the development by other countries of MTCR-class missiles. Letter of A Q Khan (Pakistani Scientist) has revealed of violations by sharing missile and nuclear technology with Pakistan's whose long range missile ghauri is similar to that of China's Missiles.

Cruise missiles

The CJ-10 long-range land attack cruise missile made its first public appearance during the military parade on the 60th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China; the CJ-10 represents the next generation in missile technology in the PLA and the drive towards modernizing the capability of the PLA.


China has been purported to have engaged in laser weapons research, but there have been no reliable sources of information regarding the state, or nature of these weapons systems. Speculation from some sources have suggested incredibly varied programs of development, such as anti-missile, anti-personnel, and anti-satellite applications.

Land mines

China's attitude towards limiting the use of land mines is still unclear. However, it has stopped production as of 2003, due to its China's peaceful rise policy.

Developing Weapons

According to the Pentagon, China is currently developing kinetic-energy weapons, high-powered lasers, high-powered microwave weapon, particle-beam weapon, and electromagnetic pulse weapons with its increase of military fundings.

Military budget

Military spending in China has grown about 10 percent annually over the last 15 years. The United States DIA and CIA, and NGOs like SIPRI, claim that "China does not report its complete military spending", making their own estimates. although this is somewhat akin to the United State's "black budget".

Commercial interests

Until the mid-1990s the PLA had extensive commercial enterprise holdings in non-military areas, particularly real estate. Almost all of these holdings were supposedly spun-off in the mid-1990s. In most cases, the management of the companies remained unchanged, with the PLA officers running the companies simply retiring from the PLA to run the newly formed private holding companies.

The history of PLA involvement in commercial enterprises began in the 1950s and 1960s. Because of the socialist state-owned system and from a desire for military self-sufficiency, the PLA created a network of enterprises such as farms, guest houses, and factories intended to financially support its own needs. One unintended side effect of the Deng-era economic reforms was that many of these enterprises became very profitable. For example, a military guest house intended for soldier recreation could be easily converted into a profitable hotel for civilian use. There were two main factors which increased PLA commercial involvement in the 1990s. One was that running profitable companies decreased the need for the state to fund the military from the government budget. The second was that in an environment where legal rules were unclear and political connections were important, PLA influence was very useful.

By the early 1990s party officials and high military officials were becoming increasingly alarmed at the military's commercial involvement for a number of reasons. The military's involvement in commerce was seen to adversely affect military readiness and spread corruption. Further, there was great concern that having an independent source of funding would lead to decreased loyalty to the party. The result of this was an effort to spin off the PLA's commercial enterprises into private companies managed by former PLA officers, and to reform military procurement from a system in which the PLA directly controls its sources of supply to a contracting system more akin to those of Western countries. The separation of the PLA from its commercial interests was largely complete by the year 2000. It was met with very little resistance, as the spinoff was arranged in such a way that few lost out.

Peacekeeping Operations

The PLA has sent PLA personnel to various hotspots as part of the People's Republic of China's role as a senior member of the United Nations. Mostly engineers and logistical units, as well as Military Police and members of the paramilitary People's Armed Police have been sent to peacekeeping operations such as:


File:General_Bingde_with_Admiral_Keating.jpg|General Chen Bingde meeting Admiral Keating

See also


  1. The PLA Navy's New Historic Missions: Expanding Capabilities
  2. The Political System of the People's Republic of China. Chief Editor Pu Xingzu, Shanghai, 2005, Shanghai People's Publishing House. ISBN 7-208-05566-1, Chapter 11 The State Military System.
  3. News of the Communist Party of China, Hyperlink (retrieved 28 March 2007).
  4. The Political System of the People's Republic of China. Chief Editor Pu Xingzu, Shanghai, 2005, Shanghai People's Publishing House. ISBN 7-208-05566-1 Chapter 11, the State Military System, pp. 369-392.
  5. Wen Jiabao approved by parliament to be Chinese premier_English_Xinhua
  6. List of chairman, vice chairmen, members of CPC Central Military Commission
  8. Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies
  9. Fox News: Video
  10. China Adds Precision Strike to Capabilities
  11. 2007 Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People's Republic of China. p. 36.
  12. 2007 Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People's Republic of China. p. 19.
  13. 2007 Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People's Republic of China. p. 20.
  14. China plays down fears after satellite shot down, AFP via Channelnewsasia, 20 January 2007
  15. Squadron Leader KK Nair, "Space: The Frontiers of Modern Defence", Knowledge World Publishers, New Delhi, Chapter 6, p. 123–126.
  16. Squadron Leadr KK Nair, Space:The Frontiers of Modern Defence, p. 123.
  19. The Standard, 5 March 2008, Volume 1, No. 134, Major jump in military spending, Alarm raised over cyber, space advance, the Pentagon said in a report. ... "The PLA is also exploring satellite jammers, kinetic-energy weapons, high-powered lasers, high-powered microwave weapons, particle-beam weapons, and electromagnetic pulse weapons for counterspace application," it said, adding it was not clear if the cyber intrusions were backed by the military.
  20. 2007 Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People's Republic of China. p. 25.
  21. 2007 Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People's Republic of China. p. 26

References and further reading

Annual Reports to U.S. Congress

Mandated by the FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act, this annual report discusses China's military and security strategies, technological advancements in its capabilities, military doctrine, and security issues in the Taiwan Strait.


External links

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