August 1, 1927 – the date of the creation of the People’s Liberation Army of China, the PLA or the armed forces of the People’s Republic of China. Like China itself, the PLA, which has been actively developing for a long time, has attracted a lot of attention for a number of objective reasons.

First, the army stood at the origins of the current Chinese statehood and today its power embodies the achievements of the PRC. 93 years ago, China was in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, the Chinese nation was in a poor and weakened state, in a whirlpool of internal troubles and external challenges, the people were in a tragic situation of extreme need and dependence on external forces. Thanks to the assembled people’s army in the first half of the twentieth century, Mao Zedong was able to win the fight against opponents and create an independent PRC. The preservation of the name “People’s Liberation Army” still reflects the importance of the armed forces as a symbol of sovereign China, where the people themselves determine the path of their development. In this regard, in modern Chinese ideology, the PLA represents the state itself and acts as one of its largest pillars.


Secondly, the PLA is the largest armed forces in the world. The appearance of the PLA is gradually changing – there was a gradual transition from the massive use of infantry to the actions of a few, well-equipped, highly mobile units in cooperation with the Air Force and Navy. In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping stressed that the PLA should pay more attention to quality, not quantity. In 1985, the army was reduced by 1 million people, and in 1997-by another half a million – to 2.5 million people. Today, after the reform, the number of the army is 2 million people on active service.
The legislation provides for military duty for men from the age of 18; volunteers are accepted until the age of 49. The age limit for an army reserve soldier is 50 years. Theoretically, in wartime, the Armed Forces of the People’s Republic of China can mobilize almost 750 million people. At the same time, it is officially emphasized that China is pursuing a defensive policy of the country. The new military doctrine of the People’s Republic of China in 2019 can be found at the link…/content_WS5d3941ddc6d08408f5022


Third, the PLA has the second military budget in the world (after the United States). According to the IISS Military Balance, the Chinese military budget for 2020 is $ 178.8 billion (US-732 billion, India-71 billion, Russia-65 billion). At the same time, it is necessary to pay attention to the 4-fold gap between the first and second military budgets in the world, while the American military budget is 38%, and the Chinese one is about 12% of the $ 1.9 trillion global expenditures on military development and defense.  According to SIPRI experts, in the 10 years since 2010, China’s military budget has shown the most significant growth in the last ten years (an increase of almost 85%). And in the early 1990s, the PRC’s spending on the army amounted to about $ 10 billion.


Fourth, according to SIPRI estimates, China has become not only the second largest arms exporter in terms of military spending, but also the second after the United States, surpassing Russia (the dynamics of export growth of defense industry products is as follows: in 2014, Chinese exports were at the level of Russia in 2000, and in the 1980s, China lagged behind Russia was absolute). This fact gives an understanding of the current military-technical potential of the People’s Republic of China and the self-sufficiency of the country’s defense-industrial complex, which in the past for many decades itself purchased weapons and equipment abroad.

Experts note that they are used to looking at China as a “buyer, petitioner and even a technology thief”. In order to increase efficiency, Beijing has introduced a new model for managing the defense industry, making it more “market-based”. The country also relied on military-civilian integration, making extensive use of private sector products in the defense industry and encouraging military factories to commercialize some technologies.
Today, China exports weapons and equipment worth more than $ 54 billion annually.  For example, the country has reached the 2nd place in the world in the export of military drones, one of the most advanced types of weapons. Chinese combat drones have found a buyer in Myanmar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Pakistan, Nigeria and other countries.


Fifth, at the beginning of 2016, a new modernization of the PLA was launched. The reforms of Chinese President Xi Jinping have dramatically increased the combat capability of the armed forces, making them more mobile, modern and technically equipped. Under him, the Chinese troops are transformed into a new-style army with a powerful fleet and aircraft, capable of conducting combat operations far from home.

Since that time, the division of the Armed Forces according to the territorial principle has been changed by reducing the military districts to five. New branches of the armed forces were also formed. The goal of the large-scale transformations initiated is to achieve a new level of manageability of the PLA, optimize the structure of the army and create armed forces capable of winning in the era of information technology. The strategic task of the PLA from the point of view of management is “to become the world’s leading military force by 2049”. In practice, this means at least equalizing the Chinese military capabilities with the capabilities of the opponents.


The PLA is widely involved in the missions of international peacekeeping, maritime escorting of ships, international humanitarian assistance, etc. The PRC’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations began only in 1990 with the dispatch of 5 observer officers to the Middle East. As of 2012, about 2 thousand Chinese military personnel were already involved in UN peacekeeping operations, mainly in Africa. The Chinese navy has been fighting against Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden for several years, and in 2010-2011. A large hospital ship visited a number of affected countries in Africa and the Caribbean to provide medical assistance to their residents.

In general, foreign experts note that thanks to peacekeeping missions, China has reached a new level of professionalism in campaigns to eliminate the consequences of natural disasters and conduct global general operations, such as the fight against piracy in the Middle East.


The significance of the PLA is such that every year the US Department of Defense issues a corresponding report to the US Congress, which records the dynamics of development and assesses the state of the armed forces of the People’s Republic of China in the context of comparison with its own military-technical potential (…/2019_CHINA_MILITARY_POWER_REPOR…).

The Americans are particularly focused on analyzing the capabilities of the PRC in the field of naval forces (in particular, the deployment of aircraft carrier groups), the modernization of the nuclear arsenal and missile weapons as a means of its delivery. According to estimates, the PRC has an arsenal of about 100 deployed intercontinental nuclear missiles (excluding the latest DF-41 missiles) and 48 submarine-launched missiles. The total nuclear potential, according to open sources, is about 260 warheads.
More information about the nuclear forces of the People’s Republic of China can be found on the resources of the PIR Center, a specialized Russian analytical center (


Today, the United States is persistently striving to involve the PRC in a Russian-American dialogue on nuclear weapons. As you know, the Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty (START-3), signed in 2010, remains the only existing agreement between Russia and the United States on limiting military power. It expires in February 2021, and so far Washington has not announced whether it intends to extend it.
At the same time, the United States insists on the need for a trilateral signing of the next document with the participation of the PRC (while the Russian Federation does not insist on this condition). In July 2020, Beijing officially responded to Washington’s plans. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the country will join the dialogue if the United States reduces its nuclear arsenals to the level that China has at its disposal.


Western experts usually assess the PLA as a power threatening the world community (for example, the assessments of the well-known American think tank CSIS are typical…/chinas-new-2019-defense-white-paper). From the point of view of global rivalry, this logic is understandable, but subjective. However, for the sake of objectivity in the analysis of the orientation of the Chinese military potential, it is advisable to rely on real facts, including from history.

First – over the past five decades, the PRC has not taken part in any full-scale armed conflict with another state. For example, if we take local border clashes in the Himalayas on the disputed section of the border with India, then despite the intensity of passions, the armed forces of both countries do not use firearms, realizing the severity of the consequences (

Secondly, China is well aware that any involvement of the army to solve difficult political issues on the external circuit, or even a diplomatic hint of the use of military force in a dialogue with partners, will directly affect the country’s reputation and economic development. For the People’s Republic of China, the economy and international trade and economic initiatives (the Belt and Road Initiative) are on a priority place.

Third – today, a huge China with all its large military power “does not play with its muscles” in a dialogue even with a very small Taiwan, a Chinese island with which certain ideological differences have historically developed. Despite the difficult geopolitical background around the Taiwan issue, Beijing consistently seeks to expand economic ties and build a political dialogue and relations with the island on the principle of”one country, two systems”.

Fourth – if we take a historical digression, then war is not a component of Chinese political culture, as for example, among the Anglo-Saxons, Japanese, Germans and other peoples who have left their mark on world history through numerous wars.
Thus, the world-famous treatise “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu has a rather philosophical and conceptual orientation and is more focused on application in diplomacy and political intrigues than in military affairs. The key task of a commander, according to the treatise, is to achieve victory by methods where war is the most extreme means.

This teaching instructs the following: first of all, we must think about how to break the enemy’s plans, leave him without allies, and only further on the importance of the task is to break his troops. According to the treatise, the worst thing is a long siege or storming of fortresses. These stratagems well reflect the thinking of the Chinese, who strive to avoid direct conflicts as much as possible.

Nothing has changed in a few thousand years. This cultural specificity, for example, can be directly traced in the current contradictions with the United States, where the Americans traditionally provoke a total conflict, and the Chinese, being ready to respond to this challenge, still call for following reason and dialogue.

For example, it is logical that China has clearly identified as a strategic goal for the coming decades the displacement of the United States from neighboring waters, including the South China, East China and Yellow Seas. But the PRC will solve this problem not through a direct military clash, but through the creation of an “uncomfortable” environment for the US Navy there: a large number of Chinese submarines, underwater sensors, ground-based radars and anti-aircraft systems (they are being built on artificial islands of the South China Sea) , etc. Sun Tzu’s treatise in action.

Fifth – returning to history again, experts pay attention to the most famous symbol of China – the Great Wall of China. The meaning of this huge wall is well known – it is a defensive structure against barbarians in the northwest. Historians note that the aggressors do not build walls. All this also reflects the defensive nature of Chinese military development.

And in general, against the background of a large-scale information war regarding the exaggeration of the growth of the Chinese military threat, it is still worth paying attention without emotion to the fact that China has enough of its own internal problems and tasks that it needs to solve. Beijing is well aware that any military conflict is a failure of the plan to restore the state since 1949. Any military aggression is the loss of all the great achievements over 70 years of development.

It is quite natural that an urgent question arises – why then is China so actively increasing its military power, if it does not seek to attack anyone?

The answer is again in the Chinese history of the XIX-XX centuries, when the country was internally weakened and fell under external dependence and harsh unfair conditions were imposed on it (until now, in a number of large Chinese cities, in Shanghai or Tianjin, etc., “monuments” of that period in the form of European quarters, as a legacy of foreign domination, have been preserved). Apparently, the PLA is now developing in such a way as to no longer allow such a scenario.

China Studies Centre,

Nur-Sultan, 2020

Number of shows: 1501