Think Again: China's Military from Foreign policy


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Think Again: China's Military from Foreign policy

"China's Military Is a Growing Threat."

Not yet.After two decades of massive military spending to modernize its armed forces, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars, China increasingly has the ability to challenge the United States in its region, if not yet outside it. But the ability to project force tells us very little about China's willingness to use it.

"China's Armed Forces Are the Biggest in theWorld."

Yes,but it depends on how you count. The PLA has the most people on its payroll -- 2.2 million active personnel (though between 1985 and 2005, it shrank by 1.7 million soldiers and is still shrinking today). That's still far more than the 1.4 million active service members in the U.S. military.

"The PLA Is Slow, Conservative, and Backward."

Not anymore.Although it is still no match for the mighty U.S. military, the PLA has come a long way since Mao's ragtag army defeated the Nationalists in 1949. Over the last two decades in particular, China has improved the quality, technical capabilities, and effectiveness of its enlistees and officers, even as it has shrunk the total number of military personnel.

"China's One-Child Generation Will Weaken Its Military."

Probably.The PLA's hardware is improving, but what about its recruits? China's one-child policy is widely perceived as creating a generation of spoiled, overweight boys, dubbed "little emperors," who are doted on by four grandparents while their parents toil to support them in fields, factories, and offices. Although accounts are sometimes exaggerated (in practice, many families, particularly in rural areas, have managed to have more than one child), the dramatic demographic shifts brought about by this policy, started in 1979, certainly impact the PLA. By 2006, "only-child soldiers" made up more than half of the force, up from just 20 percent a decade earlier, giving China the largest-ever military with a majority of only-children.

"China Needs Its Army to Stamp Out Domestic Unrest."

No.That's the job of the People's Armed Police. While the world watched in horror as armored personnel carriers and camouflaged soldiers suppressed riots in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in 2008 and Uighur-dominated Urumqi in 2009, many assumed it was the Chinese army marching in the streets behind Plexiglas shields. But they were mistaken. A careful look at their insignia revealed that the units were part of the People's Armed Police, not the PLA.

"China's War Plans Are All About Invading Taiwan."

That was then.Chinese military leaders in the recent past did place intense focus on preparing their armed forces to fight a "limited war" over Taiwan, fully expecting that the United States would enter the conflict. Many weapons systems the PLA acquired or developed, as well as the exercises it trained for, were largely aimed at fighting a technologically superior enemy -- with particular emphasis on developing tactics to keep the United States from bringing naval assets to China's shores, a strategy known as "access denial." In the past, massive annual amphibious-assault exercises, known derisively as the "million-man swim," defined the military experiences of hundreds of thousands of conscripts.

"China's Military Has Global Aspirations."

Perhaps someday. At the height of the Cold War, Soviet military vessels prowled the world's oceans, and its aircraft patrolled international airspace. By contrast, China's navy rarely leaves its home waters; when it does patrol farther afield, it still does not cross the Pacific.