Forces: Chinese Revelations

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May 7, 2013: For the first time China has published data on the exact size of its military services. The army has a personnel strength of 850,000, the navy has 235,000, and the air force 398,000 (including three airborne divisions, air defense units, and the strategic missiles in the Second Artillery Force).

The Chinese also released the identification of the major army units assigned to each of the seven MACs (Military Area Command): Shenyang (16th, 39th, and 40th Combined Corps), Beijing (27th, 38th, and 65th Combined Corps), Lanzhou (21st and 47th Combined Corps), Jinan (20th, 26th, and 54th Combined Corps), Nanjing (1st, 12th, and 31st Combined Corps), Guangzhou (41st and 42nd Combined Corps), and Chengdu (13th and 14th Combined Corps).  Each Combined Corps contains two or more divisions, plus independent brigades. In peacetime these units are used to back up the police in maintaining public order and standing ready to help when there is a natural disaster. Some units with better equipment and training are designated as available to quickly go to some border area to deal with an enemy threat.

These revelations are part of a program to modernize the armed forces. Most of this information was already available via open sources and Internet chatter in China. There have been some similar public relations efforts. Over the last three years, without any fanfare, China has changed the names of its armed forces. Gone is the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) prefix for the navy (PLAN) and air force (PLAAF). It's now just the Chinese Army, Chinese Navy, and Chinese Air Force. There are also the Marines of the Chinese Navy. These changes can be seen on patches worn by Chinese troops operating overseas. These badges show the symbol representing the service, the name in Chinese and also in English (the international language, especially in Asia).

Since there was no official announcement, there was no explanation for why the old PLA prefix was dropped. The PLA was the original Chinese Communist armed forces, founded in 1927, by the Chinese Communist Party. This force was initially known as the Chinese Red Army. After World War II the PLA name was formally adopted for all the communist armed forces.

Because of this Communist Party connection, and continuing Chinese efforts to merge with Taiwan (the last territory held by the non-communist groups that lost the civil war in 1948 and took refuge on Taiwan), it is believed the "Peoples Liberation" prefix was discarded to please the "democratic" (as opposed to "communist") Chinese on Taiwan, as well as all those non-communist neighbors.

For the last two decades China has been working to modernize its armed forces and eliminating petty (and ineffective) secrecy and name changes appears to be a minor, but important, part of that.

 


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