Post-reorganization, the PLANMC tripled to around 30,000 and is a Marine Corps in the traditional sense, operating from naval ships and bases, providing port and ship security, and an assault capability. All essentially in support of the Navy. Their uniforms support this mainly littoral mission profile, which being blue and white, would be counterproductive as camouflage.
China’s relatively recent acquisition of an over-seas base Djibouti and ongoing disputes in the South China Sea point to an expanding role for the PLANMC, which seems to be gearing towards operations farther removed from China’s immediate border. The PLANMC would likely be China’s readiness force in the event of a conflict in the South China Sea, and has made a showing in joint operations with other countries, including Russia.
Significantly, the PLANMC has no combat experience to speak of. Until 2018, both American and Chinese Marines participated in joint-combat exercises in the Pacific, when the PLANMC was disinvited from participating, due to their destabilizing moves in the South China Sea.
Still, China is aware of its military’s inexperience, and appears to be trying to be making up for this deficiency by partnering more closely with the Russian Navy and Naval Infantry through their bilateral Joint Sea naval operations, where they practice and gain experience in offshore operations.
No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy
No conversation about Marines or Naval Infantry is complete without mentioning the United States Marine Corps, undeniably the largest, best-equipped, and most self-sufficient Marine force. This is due in large part to the sheer size of the DoD budget, and USMC organic armor and air elements. Still, at the end of the day, the secret strength of the USMC is its relationships. If war would break out with North Korea, China, or Russia, American Marines would no doubt be augmented by Royal Marines, the ROKMC, or other NATO allied Marine forces. Therein lies their true strength, not equipment or money, although important, but people and relationships.
Caleb Larson holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on US and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture. This article first appeared in 2019 and is reprinted here due to reader interest.