The PLA in a New Era
Born with historic significance, the PLA is an integral part of the blueprint of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and over the years has developed at great scale. After the founding of the PRC, new military leadership system was also established.
Establishment of Military Leadership System
After the founding of the PRC, a new system of military leadership was also established. The Common Program of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference established the military system of the PRC and formulated that the country's unified armed forces— the PLA and the people's public security forces— were both under the command of the People's Revolutionary Military Commission of the Central People's Government and shared the same systems, establishments and disciplines. The Common Program designated the People's Revolutionary Military Commission of the Central People's Government with the ultimate authority over the PLA and the highest power to make strategic military guidelines and lead national defence and army building.
Subordinate organs of the People's Revolutionary Military Commission included the General Staff Department, the General Political Department, and the General Logistics Department. They put into practice the CPC Central Military Commission's strategic decisions and policies and guidelines. By the mid-1950s, the CMC had established eight major departments, including the General Staff Department, the General Department of Training Supervision and the Armed Forces Supervision Department.
From 1957 to 1958, the People's Revolutionary Military Commission adjusted the establishment and conducted mergers and resumed the previous organisational structure of the General Staff Department, the General Politics Department and the General Logistics Department.
Modernised PLA Construction
During times of war, both the CPC Central Committee and the CPC Central Military Commission attached great importance to building up people's armies. The founding
of the PRC and the peaceful environment provided favourable conditions for modernising the way armies were built. On September 21, 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong proposed at the First Plenary Session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC): “On the basis of the brave and time-tested People's Liberation Army, we must reserve and foster people's armed forces. We will have a mighty ground force, air force and navy.” Since then, the PLA, aiming for scientific establishment and improvements, adapted itself to strategic situations at home and abroad, as well as the country's guidelines and demands. By streamlining and reorganising, the PLA has evolved from a quantity- oriented ground force to a modern quality- oriented army of integrated service branches.
In December 1978, the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee confirmed the shift of the CPC'S priority to economic development. Accordingly, the PLA also entered a new historic stage of development. At the enlarged meeting of the CPC Central Military Commission in January 1979, Xu Xiangqian highlighted that the military version of prioritising the four modernisations was to modernise national defence. Later, the General Political Department of the CPC Central Mililtary Commission released The Political Opinions on Transferring the Key Priority of the CPC, a document stipulating the whole army was encouraged to accelerate modernisation of national defence and strive to become a modern revolutionary army.
In September 1981, Deng Xiaoping, then chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission, delivered a speech at a military parade in North China, defining the general task and principle to build a strong, modern and revolutionary army. In the speech, Deng stressed the urgent need to complete general tasks, citing that the PLA is a strong pillar supporting the people's democratic dictatorship and shoulders glorious missions to defend the socialist country and the four modernisations. Deng said that PLA should make preparations for resistance to invasions, and strive to contribute to defending world peace and homeland security and reunifying Taiwan. The speech reaffirmed revolution, modernisation and regularisation as the PLA'S general task and principle and shed light on the direction and objectives of army building.
Streamlining and Reorganisation
At an enlarged meeting of the CPC Central Military Commission in June 1985, Deng Xiaoping analysed contemporary situations of war and peace and China's surroundings and clearly pointed that despite the “existing risk of a possible world war,” it was unlikely to “happen on a large scale in the near future.” On the basis of his scientific analyses, a decision was made to change military guidelines from preparing for large wars and even nuclear wars to contributing to world peace. The meeting consolidated a consensus to fully seize the opportunity of current world peace to work for the country's modernisation in a planned and progressive way and in accordance with national economic development, as well as to make personnel cuts and improve soldiers' quality and fighting abilities in the modern era.
To implement the renewed guideline, the enlarged meeting of CPC Central Military Commission made a decision to demobilise one million soldiers and passed the Plan on the Reform, Streamlining and Reorganisation of Military Systems. The plan proposed downsizing principles: simultaneous reforms of military systems and related systems; priority to simplifying institutions and subordinate units, especially headquarters, military regions, types of arms and services, and organs and subordinates of the Commission for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (COSTIND); simplifying the administrative structures by removing and merging institutions and downgrading certain institutions; making outdated equipment obsolete, and sealing up certain military facilities; reducing ground forces, naval and air forces of troops, especially those of garrisons, the infantry and logistics; streamlining establishments by delegating certain power to local
authorities; and improving a wellbalanced composition of troops and coordination among different services.
Under the leadership of the CMC, military institutions across the country made joint great efforts and achieved the streamline tasks proposed at the enlarged meeting of 1985 in 1987.
The reorganisation made special forces outnumber infantries to become the main muscle of the PLA ground forces. With the enhancement of special forces and the combination of different services, group armies' abilities were greatly and comprehensively improved in firing, assaulting, mobilising and defence.
Reserve Force and Armed Police Force
In August 1986, the General Staff Department, the General Political Department, and the General Logistics Department issued a notice which explicitly stipulated that reserve force would be included into the PLA with reserve divisions and regiments designated and given with flags. All the reserve divisions and regiments were equipped with CPC committees and under the leadership of CPC with leading officers assuming separate responsibilities. Distinctive from active armies and militias, reserve force largely comprised veterans with some serving officers as cadres. In ordinary times, reserve force plays a supplementary role in improving quick mobility. During wartime, the reserves are put into active service and given operational missions.
In early 1986, the CPC Central Committee, the State Council and the CPC Central Military Commission issued a document concerning the delegation of the People's Armed Police Force Department to local levels, with specific provisions on matters such as institutional setups, leadership, responsibilities, selecting cadres, salaries and funding, as well as the practices and steps of the turnover to local authorities. In March, the People's Armed Police Force Department, except those in border regions, was placed under the joint leadership of the PLA and the local authorities (districts, counties or cities) with no changes to its name and missions.
In the second half of 1995, the People's Armed Police Force Department returned to the jurisdiction of the PLA, according to the State Council and the CMC'S decisions.
During the military's reorganisation, efforts were also made to improve the Chinese People's Armed Police Force. In 1982, the force was created by an amalgamation of the Ministry of Public Security's border control and fire departments, as well as the internal guard forces which were transferred by the PLA to public security departments. In April 1983, the Chinese People's Armed Police Force Headquarters was established. Meanwhile, the armed police force corps, detachments, brigades and squadrons were established across the country from provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions to cities, prefectures and leagues to counties and banners.
Like the PLA, the armed police force also executes the Military Service Law of the People’s Republic of China and follows the CPC'S leadership. Its mission is to safeguard national sovereignty, maintain public security, defend national security and economic development, and protect Party and government offices, significant sites, and people's life and properties. In ordinary times, the armed police force carries out operations in cooperation with public security departments; and in the wartime, it will participate in wars together with the PLA. The transfer of some PLA units to armed police force around 1985 helped improve the strategic order of national armed forces and gave full play to their functions.
A Quality Force
In the 1990s, the CPC Central Committee and the CMC decided again to downsize the PLA in an effort to adapt to the world's strategic pattern changes and military development trends, seize historic opportunities, accelerate building up of
the army, stick to the fewer but better path with Chinese characteristics, and realise the major measures of modernising national defence and militaries.
On November 24, 2015, Xi Jinping, chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission, announced at a meeting about the Central Military Commission reform that the strategy of building a strong army through reform should be implemented and China would steadily take the road to build a strong army with Chinese characteristics.
In January 2016, approved by Xi Jinping, the Central Military Commission issued the Opinions on Deepening the Reform of National Defense and Army.
The Opinions stressed that since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, the CPC Central Committee and the Central Military Commission focused on PLA'S modernised and standardised construction. They coordinated the construction and utility of military force and economy and national defence construction, formulated the strategic military guidelines in the new situation, proposed a series of major principles, and made a number of major decisions and deployments. To implement these deployments and strategies required deepening national defence and army reform and unswervingly constructing a strong army.
The Opinions also pointed out that the guiding thoughts for deepening national defence and army reform included: implementing the guidelines from the 18th National Congress of the CPC and those of its third through sixth plenary sessions; taking Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents, and the Scientific Outlook on Development as the guide; putting into practice the principles from General Secretary Xi Jinping's major addresses, particularly the statements on national defence and military construction. It also required solving the systematic and structural conflicts and policy issues that limited the development of national defence and army development according to the requirements of “Four Comprehensives.” All these aimed to promote the modernisation of army organisation, liberate and develop combat effectiveness, strengthen army's vitality, and build a strong army and powerful national defence that comply with the country's international standard and national safety and interests. The strong national defence and army will provide a solid foundation for realising the Two Centenary Goals and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
The Opinions emphasised that the deepening of national defence and military reform should stick to the following basic principles: the right political direction, orientation to combat, innovation, system design, rule of law and stability.
The Opinions pointed out that the overall objective of deepening national defence and military reform is to promote reform of the size and composition of the armed forces, the policy system and deeply integrated military and civilian development in a coordinated manner focusing on reform of the leadership management system and joint combat command system. By 2020, breakthroughs in the leadership management system and joint combat command system and major achievements in optimising the size and composition of the armed forces, improving the policy system and promoting deeply integrated military and civilian development will be made to build a modern system of military forces with Chinese characteristics capable of winning information wars and further improve the socialist military system with Chinese characteristics.
The Opinions specifies the main tasks with respect to the leadership management system, the joint combat command system, the size and composition of the armed forces, the task organization of the troops, cultivation of new military talents, the policy system, integrated military and civilian development, the Armed Police Force's command and management system and structure and the military law system.
According to the Opinions, deepening national defence and military reform is a revolutionary change and must be carried out under the unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee, the CPC Central Military Commission ; it was necessary to implement the principle of reform meetings of the CPC Central Military Commission, strengthen education, unify our thinking, control risks and advance various reform measures in accordance with the law; a strong organisational leadership will ensure that the completion of reform tasks.
On January 11, 2016, when Xi Jinping met with responsible persons of departments of the CPC Central Military Commission, he stressed that implementing military strategic principles under a new situation must focus on the aim of building a strong national defence of the CPC; working hard to build a powerful departments of the CPC Central Military Commission will make a contribution to realisation of the Chinese dream.
According to reform preparations, the headquarters system will be adjusted and replaced by a multi-department system, ground forces leading organisations will be established, the management system of different military services will be improved, the layout of theatres will be renewed, united combat commands among different theatres/military commissions will be organised, and the “military commission-theatre command-troop” combat command system and the “military commission-military service-troop” leadership system will be established.
In line with reform requirements, Chinese troops will make major achievements in optimising scale and structure, improving policies and systems, and deepening military-civilian integration by 2020. It's predictable that “after these reforms, the Chinese army will become a modern and efficient army with the abilities to win the war of the information age.”
The Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee was held in Beijing in December 1978.
Deng Xiaoping, then chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission, oversees the troops in 1981.
The Chinese People’s Armed Police Force