Forces: January 11, 2005


Since the 1980s, China has been steadily reducing the size of its armed forces. In that time, troop levels have gone from 3.8 million to the current 2.3 million. More personnel cuts were planned, as part of a program to reduce manpower while improving training and buying new equipment. But now the government has decided to halt the cuts, and maintain the current 2.3 million force. This includes 1.6 million in the army, 250,000 in the navy and 420,000 in the air force. In addition, there are 1.5 million paramilitary troops. These include 500,000 internal security, 800,000 border guards and several other special security units. The army contains about 60 divisions, plus several dozen independent brigades. These units are poorly trained and equipped. Although China has been increasing its defense budget, it is still 1.7 percent of GDP (versus over three percent for the United States.) Current defense spending is about $22 billion a year, versus nearly 400 billion for the United States. 

China has no real reserves to speak of, so those 2.3 million troops are all they have for any military emergency. China has been creating a two force system. There is a new, better trained and equipped force. New tanks, warplanes and ships have been purchased for this, but its only about ten percent of the armed forces. The rest of the armed forces are poor by any standard, including some "reserve" units. And China has a long reputation of for this sort of thing. Time and again, China has found itself at war using a large, but poorly equipped and trained army. Why does this persist? Probably because the large, inept army, is good for keeping the Chinese people in line, and not effective enough to overthrow the government. Old habits are hard, and expensive, to break.


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