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Overview of the People's Liberation Army

The armed forces of China are officially and collectively known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The ground forces are referred to simply as the PLA, but the navy is called the PLA Navy and the air force is known as the PLA Air Force. The PLA’s independent strategic missile forces are often referred to as the PLA Second Artillery Corps. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Military Commission sets policy for the PLA. The commission, which is chaired by China’s president, has three vice chairmen, each a general in the PLA ground forces, and seven members representing various components of the PLA.

Operational control is administered dually by the CCP Central Military Commission and the State Central Military Commission and the Ministry of National Defense. PLA headquarters is organized into the General Staff Department, General Political Department, General Logistics Department, and General Armaments Department. In 2005 China announced that it downsized its military by 200,000 troops in order to optimize force structures and increase combat capabilities. The active-duty troop numbers declined to 2.3 million, compared to 3.2 million in 1987. The changes included eliminating layers in the command hierarchy, reducing noncombat units, such as schools and farms, and reprogramming officer duties.

The number of ground forces was reduced by the largest margin, while the navy, air force, and Second Artillery Corps were strengthened. An estimated 1.7 million military personnel are in the ground forces, 250,000 in the navy (including 26,000 naval aviation, 10,000 marines, and 28,000 coastal defense forces), an estimated 400,000 to 420,000 in the air force, and 90,000–100,000 in the strategic missile forces. Reservists number an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 and paramilitary forces in the People’s Armed Police an estimated 1.5 million.

The Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China is constitutionally different from the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party. According to Article 93 of the state constitution, the state Central Military Commission directs the armed forces of the country and is composed of a chairman (currently Hu Jintao since June 2004), vice chairmen, and members whose terms run concurrently with the National People’s Congress. The commission is responsible to the NPC and its Standing Committee.

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