III. The Armed Forces

The armed forces of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are composed of the People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force and the militia. The Central Military Commission (CMC) of the PRC directs and assumes unified command of the nation’s armed forces.

The People’s Liberation Army

The PLA is a people’s army created and led by the Communist Party of China (CPC), and the principal body of China’s armed forces. The PLA is made up of both active and reserve components. Its total force is maintained below the 2,500,000-strong mark. The active components of the PLA are the country’s standing army, consisting of the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Second Artillery Force, whose main task is to conduct operations of defense, and, if necessary, help to maintain social order in accordance with the law. Through the General Staff Headquarters, the General Political Department, the General Logistics Department and the General Armaments Department, the CMC exercises operational command over the whole PLA and leadership for the development of the PLA.

The PLA was established on August 1, 1927, and consisted of land forces only in its early days. The Army is responsible primarily for military operations on land. At present, the Army has no independent leading organ, and the functions of the leading organ are exercised by the four general headquarters/departments. The seven military area commands, namely, those of Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu, exercise direct leadership over the Army units under their command. The Army has such arms as infantry, armor, artillery, air defense, Army aviation, engineering, chemical defense and communications, as well as other specialized units such as those of electronic counter-measure (ECM), reconnaissance and mapping. The infantry, maneuvering and operating on foot or on armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles, is composed of mountain infantry, motorized infantry and mechanized infantry (armored infantry). The armored corps (tank corps), equipped basically with tanks and other armored vehicles and support vehicles, carries out ground assaults. The artillery corps, equipped basically with artillery for suppression and anti-tank purposes, and missiles for antitank and other operational-tactical purposes, carries out ground fire strikes. The air defense corps, equipped basically with anti-aircraft artillery and ground-to-air missile systems, carries out ground-to-air operations. The Army aviation corps, equipped with attack, transport, and other specialized helicopters and light fixed-wing aircraft, carries out air maneuvers and provides support for ground operations. The engineering corps, responsible for engineering support, is composed of engineering and other specialized units of pontoons, construction, camouflage, field water supply, and engineering maintenance. The chemical defense corps, responsible for chemical defense operations, is composed of chemical defense, flame-throwing and smoke-generating units. The communications corps, responsible for military communications, is composed of specialized units engaged in communications, communications engineering, communications technical support, aviation navigation and military postal service. The Army, in accordance with its different duties and responsibilities, is also divided into field mobile, sea border defense, frontier defense, and garrison troops. The organizational order of the field mobile troops is normally combined corps, division (brigade), regiment, battalion, company, platoon and squad. The organizational systems of the sea border defense, frontier defense and garrison troops are decided in accordance with their operational tasks and geographical conditions.

The Navy of the PLA was established on April 23, 1949. Its primary missions are, independently or jointly with the Army and Air Force, to guard against enemy invasion from the sea, defend the state’s sovereignty over its territorial waters, and safeguard the state’s maritime rights and interests. The Navy has such arms as the submarine, surface, naval aviation, coastal defense and marine corps, as well as other specialized units. Under the Navy, there are three fleets, namely, the Beihai, Donghai and Nanhai fleets, as well as the Naval Aviation Department. Each fleet has bases, maritime garrison commands, flotillas and squadrons under its command. The submarine force is composed both of conventional and nuclear-powered units, with underwater attack and some nuclear counterattack capabilities respectively. The nuclear-powered submarine force, which assumes the strategic nuclear counterattack mission, is under the direct command of the CMC. The surface force has combat and support units, which have anti-ship, anti-submarine, air defense, mine warfare and shore attack capabilities. The naval aviation is composed of bomber, fighter-bomber, attacker, fighter, anti-submarine and reconnaissance units, and security, ECM, transport, rescue and air refueling units, which have reconnaissance, security, anti-ship, anti-submarine and air defense capabilities. The organizational order is: Naval Aviation Department, fleet aviation, and aviation division and regiment. The naval coastal defense force is composed of shore-to-ship missile and coastal artillery units, which have capabilities to defend China’s coasts. The marine corps has infantry, artillery, armor and engineering units, as well as reconnaissance, chemical defense and communications units. It is a rapid assault force for amphibious operations.

The Air Force of the PLA was established on November 11, 1949. Its primary missions are organizing homeland air defense to protect the territorial air, and providing air security for key facilities; organizing relatively independent air offensive operations; independently or jointly with the Army, the Navy or the Second Artillery Force, engaging in joint operations against enemy invasion from the air, or in conducting air strikes against the enemy. Adopting a system of combining aviation with ground-to-air defense forces, the Air Force consists of the aviation, surface-to-air missile, anti-aircraft artillery and airborne units, as well as communications, radar, ECM, chemical defense, technical reconnaissance and other specialized units. The Air Force has an air command in each of the seven military areas of Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. In the major direction and target zones, there are air corps or corps-level air bases. The aviation is composed of fighter, attacker, bomber, reconnaissance, transport and support units, usually in the organizational order of division, regiment, group and squadron. An aviation division generally has under its command two to three aviation regiments and related stations. The aviation regiment is the basic tactical unit. Due to differences in weaponry and tasks, the number of aircraft in an aviation regiment ranges from 20 to 40. The ratio of aircraft to pilots (aircrew) is usually 1:1.2. The ground-to-air missile force and anti-aircraft artillery force are usually organized into divisions (brigades), regiments, battalions and companies, and the airborne force into corps, divisions, regiments, battalions and companies.

The Second Artillery Force of the PLA was established on July 1, 1966. It is composed of the ground-to-ground strategic nuclear missile force, the conventional operational-tactical missile force, and the support units. The strategic nuclear missile force, under the direct command of the CMC, constitutes the main part of China’s limited nuclear counterattack capability. It is equipped with land-based strategic nuclear missile systems. Its primary missions are to deter the enemy from using nuclear weapons against China, and, in the case of a nuclear attack by the enemy, to launch an effective counterattack in self-defense independently or jointly with the strategic nuclear forces of other services, at the order of the supreme command. The conventional operational-tactical missile force is equipped with conventional operational and tactical missile systems. Its task is to carry out fire assaults with conventional missiles.

The PLA’s reserve force, established in 1983, is a force with its own preset organizational structure, with reserve personnel as the base and active personnel as the backbone. The reserve force operates a unified organizational system. The divisions, brigades and regiments of the reserve force are conferred designations and military banners. The reserve force implements orders and regulations of the PLA, and is incorporated into the PLA’s order of battle. In peacetime, it is led by the provincial military districts or garrison commands, and in wartime, after mobilization, it is commanded by the designated active unit or carries out combat missions independently. It receives military training in peacetime in accordance with the relevant regulations, and, if necessary, helps to maintain social order in accordance with the law. In wartime, it may be called into active service in pursuance of a state mobilization order.

The PLA forces stationed in Hong Kong and Macao are under the direct leadership of the CMC. The PLA Hong Kong Garrison is mainly composed of ground, naval and air units. The PLA Macao Garrison is mainly composed of a ground force, with some naval and air force personnel on its staff.

The Chinese People’s Armed Police Force

The Chinese People’s Armed Police Force was established on June 19, 1982. It consists of internal security forces, gold mine, forest, water conservancy, electricity power, and transportation forces. The frontier police force, fire brigades and security guards are also included into the Armed Police Force. The internal security forces are composed of contingents and mobile divisions. The Armed Police Force is constructed in accordance with the PLA’s guiding concept, purpose and principles of army building, as well as its orders, rules and regulations, combined with characteristics of the Armed Police Force. It implements the Military Service Law of the PRC, and enjoys the same benefits as those of the PLA. The basic missions of the Armed Police Force are to maintain state security and social stability, protect facilities and objects significant to the state, safeguard people’s lives and properties, and assist the PLA in wartime in defensive operations.

The Armed Police Force is subordinate to the State Council, and is under the dual leadership of the State Council and the CMC. The Armed Police Force receives unified leadership and management, and its command is delegated to a relevant organ at each level. The Armed Police Force has three echelons of leadership, namely, general headquarters, contingent (division) and detachment (regiment). The General Headquarters of the Armed Police Force, as the chief commanding organ of the Armed Police Force, commands and administers internal security forces, and gold mine, forest, water conservancy, electricity power, and transportation forces. In the nationwide administrative hierarchy, the Armed Police contingents, detachments, and squadrons are instituted at province, prefecture, and county levels respectively. When performing a public security task or relevant work, the Armed Police Force unit is subordinate to the leadership and command of the public security organs at the same level.

In peacetime, the tasks of the Armed Police Force include performing guard duties at fixed points, dealing with contingencies, combating terrorism and supporting national economic development. Guard duties at fixed points chiefly means, among others, security guard, watch and ward, prison and detention guard, escort and patrol. It is specifically responsible for protecting the security of state-designated objects to be guarded, important visiting foreign dignitaries, leading organs of the Party and government at and above the provincial level, embassies and consulates of foreign countries in China, important national and international conferences, and sites of large-scale cultural and sports activities; posting peripheral armed guards at prisons and detention houses; providing armed protection for key departments in charge of confidential work and critical parts of important airports, radio stations, state economic departments, and national defense works, as well as important bridges and tunnels along trunk railway lines, and specially designated large road bridges; and performing armed patrol and other security duties in state-designated large and medium-sized cities or specific zones. Dealing with contingencies chiefly means handling, according to law, sudden illegal incidents endangering state security or social order, such as revolts, riots and disturbances, fights with weapons and other group activities that endanger public security. Combating terrorism chiefly means performing anti-attack, anti-hijacking and anti-explosion tasks. Supporting national economic development chiefly means gold mine prospecting, preventing and fighting forest fire, participation in key state energy and transportation projects, and emergency rescue and disaster relief in cases of serious calamities.

The Militia

The militia is an armed mass organization not released from production. It is a reserve force of the PLA and the basis for the prosecution of a people’s war under modern conditions. The General Staff Headquarters administers the building of the militia under the leadership of the State Council and the CMC. Under the command of military organs, the militia in wartime helps the standing army in its military operations, conducts independent operations, and provides combat support and manpower replenishment for the standing army. In peacetime, it undertakes the tasks of performing combat readiness support, taking part in emergency rescue and disaster relief efforts, and maintaining social order.

In accordance with provisions in the Military Service Law of the PRC, male citizens from 18 to 35 years of age who are fit for military service, excluding those enlisted for active service, shall be regimented into militia units to perform reserve service. The militia has two categories: the primary and the ordinary. A selected group of militiamen under the age of 28, including soldiers discharged from active service and other persons who have received or are selected for military training, shall be regimented into the primary militia; other male citizens belonging to the age group of 18 to 35, who are qualified for reserve service shall be regimented into the ordinary militia. The primary militia may recruit female citizens when necessary. Rural towns and townships, administrative villages, urban sub-districts, and enterprises and institutions of a certain scale are the basic units in which the militia is organized. Primary militiamen are separately organized for concentrated military training in militia military training bases of administrative areas at the county level. Currently, there are emergency detachments, and such specialized technical detachments as anti-aircraft artillery, anti-aircraft machineguns, portable air defense missiles, ground artillery, communications, chemical defense, engineering and reconnaissance detachments.

To ensure that militiamen are always ready to respond to the call in case of a contingency, the Chinese government has formulated a militia combat readiness system, whereby combat readiness education is carried out regularly among the militia with the purpose of enhancing their national defense awareness, and exercises are conducted in accordance with combat readiness plans to enhance the militia’s operational capabilities.