The Buzz

Why China Is Slashing the Size of Its Army

China is radically restructuring its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by cutting the number of Corps level commands by a quarter.

The move—which seems to primarily impact the PLA’s ground forces—is designed to transform the Chinese military into a much more agile force that can cope with the demands of modern warfare. However, the cuts are in part to deal with corruption within the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party and the PLA.

“The axing of the 16th and 47th army groups is a decision made by Xi to further clean up all the pernicious influence left by Guo and Xu, paving the way for Xi to assign his men amid the ongoing leadership reshuffle ahead of the party’s congress in autumn,” a source told the South China Morning Post, also known as SCMP.

According to the newspaper, as many as 200,000 troops would be impacted, however some of those soldiers might be shifted over to the PLA’s Rocket Force, Navy or the Air Force. Some soldiers, however, might also be converted into Marines or Airborne troops.

“The units affected in the cutbacks include the 20th and 27th army corps in the Central Theatre Command, the 14th Army Corps in the Southern Command, the 16th Army Corps in the north and the 47th in the west,” writes SCMP’s Minnie Chan.

Overall, as part of a series of reforms, Chinese President Xi Jinping hopes to reduce the PLA’s personnel strength by some 300,000 troops—mostly from non-combat specialties. However, according to the SCMP, Xi’s reforms have run into stiff resistance in Beijing. PLA veterans are particularly concerned about unpaid pensions and have been actively demonstrating against the government.

“Recent massive demonstrations and protests staged by veterans in Beijing over unpaid pensions and other benefit demands have put the central leadership under great pressure,” a source told the newspaper. “Security for this year’s two annual sessions [of the legislature in Beijing] was so tight because the authorities were scared that some rabid veterans might infiltrate the conference hall to do something like demonstrate, as many of them are well trained.”

Though personnel numbers are dropping, the PLA’s budget continues to increase. Indeed, Beijing allocated seven percent more towards defense this year over the last, but growth has slowed down somewhat. Overall, however, the PLA seems to be continuing on its path towards becoming a leaner, but much more modern and capable force that might one day to able to take the United States head on.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.