In May, 1985, China solemnly declared that the People's Liberation
Army (PLA) would reduce military personnel by one million. This
was the most representative of China's many unilateral moves to
disarmament, giving proof of the nation's determination to actively
promote arms control and disarmament. This action stood in sharp
contrast to the arms race pursued by the two major military blocs
existing in the world at that time.
China's vast land and large population have justified the necessity
of maintaining a standing army of a certain size in order to maintain
national security. The PLA is a people's army led by the Communist
Party of China. Its duty is to consolidate national defence, resist
aggression, curb subversion and efforts to split the nation, defend
the motherland, safeguard the people's peaceful labour, join in
building the country and strive to serve the people.
While meeting the precondition of ensuring the interests of the
national security, China has always kept its military personnel
at a minimum level. For a long period following the founding of
the People's Republic, China was subject to isolation, blockade,
subversion and sabotage by the imperialists and hegemonists, and,
as a result, the PLA was often on a combat-ready alert. Even when
faced with such circumstances, China made great efforts towards
arms control and twice, in 1955 and 1958, effected large-scale disarmament.
The 1980s saw marked improvement in China's security environment.
In order to concentrate on rapid economic development and to further
raise the quality of its armed forces, the precept guiding China's
army-building was strategically shifted from always being prepared
against a massive war of invasion to peacetime construction. China
carried out large-scale disarmament in order to effect this goal.
As a prelude to this extensive unilateral disarmament, the Chinese
armed forces were reduced, reorganized and restructured between
1982 and 1984. In May, 1985, China decided to reduce its military
personnel by one million. Action on this scale was rare in the sphere
of contemporary international arms control and disarmament.
- Reducing personnel. By 1987, the 4.238-million-strong PLA had
been reduced to 3.235 million. Subsequently, still further reductions
were made. By 1990, the PLA manpower was reduced to 3.199 million,
overshooting the declared target of one million men. The 1.039 million
demobilized soldiers represented 24.5 percent of the army's original
- Dismantling and merging portions of the military organization.
Reapportionment and merger reduced the number of military area commands
from eleven to seven. More than 5,900 units above the regimental
level were dispersed through dismantling, merging, demoting or reforming.
- Adoption of a civil position system. Most of the officers on
active duty working in scientific research, engineering, education,
literature and arts and public health were reclassified as working
in civil positions within the army.
- Reductions in weaponry. Throughout the armed forces 10,000 artillery
pieces of various kinds were removed from service, along with over
1,100 tanks, approximately 2,500 airplanes, and over 610 naval vessels.
- Opening certain military facilities to the public. Nationwide,
101 military airports and 29 military harbours have been opened
to the public, and some military facilities have been put to civilian
China's unilateral, massive reduction of its armed forces took
place at a time when the cold war was still on and the protracted
disarmament talks between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were still
without outcome. This action was not only conducive to slowing the
arms race between the two major blocs, the East and West, and to
the relaxation of international tension at the time, but also beneficial
to the gradual creation of an atmosphere of mutual trust among the
world's nations, and the improvement of the environment for arms
control and disarmament and was thus a major contribution towards
promoting the process of the international arms control and disarmament.