On the occasion of the military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the Victory Day of Second World War, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a cut of 300,000 troops from the Chinese military. He did not mention the details of the reductions but a Chinese government statement later said the reductions in People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would be completed by the end of 2017, and that they would focus on units with outdated equipment and noncombat personnel.
At 2.3 million active-duty personnel, China has one of the largest active-duty militaries in the world. As per China News Service, a state-run agency, the announced cut will shrink Chinese military to two million personnel. Although no official figures are available, experts estimate that the PLA has about 1.6 million personnel, the PLA navy 240,000, and the PLA air force about 400,000 serving personnel.
The reduction announced today is comparable in size to the cuts made under previous Chinese President Jiang Zemin who had reduced troop numbers by 200,000 in the early 2000s. The cuts announced on Thursday will be the largest since 1997 when a reduction of 500,000 military personnel in PLA was announced. Similar reductions in the strength of the PLA have been announced even earlier during the rule of Deng Xiao Ping in the 1990s.
Today’s announcement of cuts in strength points to an ambitious programme to reform the PLA with more emphasis on the navy and air force. This will enable Beijing to project power and protect China’s strategic and commercial interests across the globe. It also fits in with the roadmap laid out in the military white paper issued by China in May this year. In the white paper, China had spoken the need for revamping the armed forces so that they can operate more effectively in the information age.
These reductions in the PLA are, however, unlikely to ease concerns among China’s neighbours over Beijing’s increasing military strength. The neighbours would be more worried perhaps that these cuts will shift the resources from land forces towards air and sea power.
India, expectedly, has not reacted to this announcement in Beijing today. Delhi is unlikely to make any changes in its military plans vis-à-vis China due to this announcement. It may force India’s military planners to focus on ways to upgrade its navy and the air force to match the growing strength of the Chinese.