In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section China's Defense Policy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Government Reports
  • History of China’s People’s Liberation Army
  • Organization and Structure of the PLA
  • Military Strategy and Doctrine
  • Strategic Culture and Use of Force
  • Missions of the PLA
  • Professionalization, Civil Military Relations, and Decision Making
  • Strategic Dimensions: Nuclear, Cyber, Space, Global Commons
  • Personnel and Leadership
  • Anti-Access, Area Denial, and Power Projection
  • National Security Crisis Decision Making
  • Reactions to PLA Modernization
  • Defense Budget, Defense Industry, and Arms Trade
  • Future Developments

International Relations China's Defense Policy
Roy Kamphausen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0082


China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the armed force of the Chinese Communist Party of China, the ruling party of the People’s Republic of China. The PLA is under the command of the Central Military Commission (CMC), a party organization chaired by the current state president and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. The PLA employs a general staff department structure to manage the PLA. The directors of the four departments and the commanders of the PLA Air Force, PLA Navy, and PLA Second Artillery join the two military vice-chairs of the CMC and State Councilor and Minister of Defense as the military members of the CMC. The PLA has approximately 2.2 million personnel on active duty (including unranked military civilians) in three services (ground forces, air force, and navy) as well as the strategic missile force branch. Forces are assigned to one of seven military regions and are stationed around China; the PLA has no overseas bases. Beginning in the early 1990s, the PLA began to receive large annual increases in military budget. This process accelerated in 1999 after the PLA was ordered to divest itself of nonmilitary-related business. Two decades of double-digit growth in Chinese defense spending have made the Chinese defense budget the second largest in the world after the United States (2014 official total: 132 billion USD). This rapid increase in defense spending has funded an impressive, multi-dimensional military modernization program that has garnered the attention of all Asian regional states, as well as that of the United States. Of particular concern are suites of capabilities (including a growing attack submarine fleet, medium-range ballistic missiles that are reportedly able to target maritime vessels, small attack naval craft), which if applied in concert with a coherent strategy could serve to create sea denial zones in the maritime space off China’s coast. Much uncertainty exists about Chinese intentions—does China seek to become a regional military hegemon and displace the United States from his post-World War II role as the guarantor of regional security and stability, or does China pursue strategies that are inherently defensive in orientation, seeking to keep the Chinese Communist Party in power and secure China’s place in East Asia to avoid a recurrence of the century of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers before the establishment of the PRC in 1949? Scholars and policymakers have widely divergent views. This article limits its entries to English-language sources. The range of Chinese sources now available is totally overwhelming for bibliographers and readers alike. Therefore, readers are well advised to begin with the works provided in this article and then pursue relevant sources cited in these works.

General Overviews

You 1999 and Blasko 2012 offer comprehensive overviews of Chinese military structure, strategy, forces, services, and key equipment. Li 2007 gives an important historical overview of PLA developments since the founding of the People’s Republic.

  • Blasko, Dennis J. The Chinese Army Today. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2012.

    Blasko’s work is regarded as the most authoritative, extant nongovernmental source on Chinese ground forces and includes a discussion of People’s Armed Police, reserves, and militia.

  • Li, Xiaobing. A History of the Modern Chinese Army. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2007.

    Drawing on his own experience as a PLA soldier, Li traces the development of the PLA since its founding, with special emphasis on the cultural circumstances and contemporary historical environment that give contextual clarity to the history.

  • You, Ji. The Armed Forces of China. London and New York: Touris, 1999.

    A native-born Chinese and now a professor in Australia, You Ji relies on extensive interviews and personal contacts to give an intimate picture of the Chinese armed forces, from the Korean War on.

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