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Tuesday, July 20, 1999 Published at 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China's military might

Current army personnel tops two million but half are conscripts

China may still have the world's largest armed forces, but experts doubt whether much of the military, hampered by poor training, a lack of equipment and years of civil duties, would actually prove effective in an offensive role.

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While Beijing maintains the option of force to reunite Taiwan with the mainland, Military Balance, the yearbook of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, suggests this is far from likely.

"China does not have the resources to carry out an opposed landing on Taiwan or anywhere else," writes the yearbook's authors.

"But it could cause serious disruption to shipping and economic activity and possibly capture one or more of the smaller islands near the mainland."

Defence spending rises

According to the latest figures, Beijing increased defence spending to some Y91bn ($11bn) in 1998 as the military sought to develop weapons systems to meet modern standards of warfare.

The headline-grabbing developments continue to be in the field of nuclear arms.

Click here to read all about China's nuclear forces

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The US has already cried foul over Beijing's alleged wholesale theft of nuclear warhead blueprints while Beijing has announced that it has the technology required to build both miniature warheads and the neutron bomb.

Military analysts also believe that China could be about to bring into service the Dong Feng 31 (DF-31) intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of some 8,000km. Its successor, expected to have an even longer range, is said to be five years away from deployment.

Other recent developments include the sea testing of the first Song-class submarine and the development of improved destroyers for the navy.

The Chinese military is also making moves to improve its air forces. China is thought to have begun production of its own version of the Russian Su-27 ground-attack fighter while Israel is believed to be assisting the development of another aircraft.

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China's military forces come under the People's Liberation Army, the revolutionary forces which brought the Communists to power in 1949.

[ image: Strict organisation: PLA is divided into seven regions]
Strict organisation: PLA is divided into seven regions
The PLA's military philosophy is based upon Chairman Mao's theory of "People's War", a doctrine which states that the effective mobilisation and motivation of the population will eventually overwhelm an enemy reliant on superior technology.

The PLA's 2,820,000 active personnel are divided into seven military regions, Beijing, Shenyang, Nanjing, Jinan, Guangzhuo, Chengdu and Lanzhou. Five of these have access to the east coast.

The PLA's forces are then broken down into four key areas: strategic missile forces, the army, the navy and the air force. China also has a sizeable paramilitary police force involved in the controversial area of internal security.

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Reductions in personnel are continuing but the total manpower still tops two million. Half of the personnel are conscripted.

[ image: Civil works: Soldiers work primarily on emergencies]
Civil works: Soldiers work primarily on emergencies
The main bulk of the forces is divided into 24 armies of about 60,000 men.

The organisation of these varies but a typical army includes infantry, artillery, tank and anti-aircraft divisions.

Each army has units dedicated to a rapid-reaction role, able to deploy both regionally and nationally, and there are at least 100 signals or engineer regiments providing logistical support.

China has an estimated 8,800 main battle tanks deployed throughout the PLA, 1,200 light tanks and 5,500 armoured vehicles.

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China's navy comprises some 260,000 personnel which includes 26,000 regional coastal defence forces, 26,000 naval air force personnel and a further 5,000 naval marines.

[ image: Battleships: China is developing new vessels]
Battleships: China is developing new vessels
There are 63 active submarines - but only one, the Song-class submarine, is currently known to have nuclear missile capability.

The remaining vessels have a tactical short-range capacity and can only remain at sea for limited periods.

Other key submarines include three Kilo-class vessels which are believed to be armed with Russian "wake-homing" torpedoes.

There are 18 destroyers led by two Luhu-class vessels armed with 100mm guns and carrying the equivalent of France's Dauphin attack helicopters.

The destroyer fleet is backed up by 35 frigates, 125 torpedo craft, 73 amphibious vessels and mine warfare craft.

Naval forces are divided into North Sea, East Sea and South Sea fleets and operate out of 19 bases, including Hong Kong.

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China's air forces, comprising some 470,000 personnel, is divided into air divisions, each made up of three regiments comprising three squadrons.

The 120 H-6 bombers, some of which are believed capable of dropping nuclear bombs, form the core of the fleet.

These bombers are backed up by about 400 Q-5 ground-attack fighters, China's equivalent of the Russian MiG-19.

Military Balance/IISS also reports that there are a further 2,556 fighter aircraft includes other planes based on the MiG-19 and MiG-21.

Aircraft are armed with a variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles while 16 divisions of air defence artillery provide further support.

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Library of Congress: China's national defence policy

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