China will cut down its present military force of 2.3 million, the world’s largest army, to below one million, the biggest troop reduction in the People’s Liberation Army’s history. “This is the first time that active PLA Army personnel would be reduced to below one million,” said a report in a social media outlet run by PLA Daily. The article on structural reform in the military said: “The old military structure, where the army accounts for the vast majority, will be replaced after the reform.”
In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping had announced a reduction of 300,000 troops in the PLA. According to the report, the number of troops in the PLA Navy, PLA Strategic Support Force, and the PLA Rocket Force would be increased, while the PLA Air Force’s active service personnel would remain the same.
“The reform is based on China’s strategic goals and security requirements. In the past, the PLA focused on ground battle and homeland defence, which will undergo fundamental changes,” said the WeChat article. China has cut down its defence spending in the past two years, with the military budget in 2017 remaining seven per cent, lowest hike in more than a decade. Xi wants a lean but modernised armed forces.
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China has been becoming a major sea power and its disputes are more on seas than land. Of the 14 neighbours, China has land disputes only with India and Bhutan. According to the Chinese Defence Ministry, PLA had about 850,000 combat troops in 2013. “This reform will provide other services, including the PLA Rocket Force, Air Force, Navy and Strategic Support Force (mainly responsible for electronic warfare and communication), with more resources and inputs, and the PLA will strengthen its capability to conduct overseas missions,” Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, was quoted as saying by Global Times.
“The PLA must be capable of spotting overseas threats and destroying hostile forces thousands of kilometers away before they enter our 12 nautical mile territorial waters,” Xu said. “China’s overseas interests are spread around the world and need to be protected. These are beyond the army’s current capabilities,” said Xu. The PLA structure should also fit China’s international status, Xu added.