BEIJING (AFP) – China’s top military leader Jiang Zemin announced that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will reduce its numbers by 200,000 troops before 2005 and put more focus on building a high-tech army, state press reported. Jiang told a meeting of the Central Military Commission (CMC) that the troop reductions would follow an earlier 500,000-man cut to military personnel between 1996 and 2000, Xinhua news agency said.
According to the information office of the PLA, the demobilization would reduce China’s army to 2.3 million soldiers, while Western analysts said the cuts could bring China’s ground forces to as low as 1.8 million soldiers.
Despite this, the PLA remains the world’s largest standing army, albeit one badly in need of technological transformation.
“The state of war is being transformed from mechanized warfare to information warfare with the information capabilities of the military increasingly playing a decisive role,” Jiang was quoted as telling the meeting.
“Reducing the scale of our military is beneficial to the concentration of our limited strategic resources and will quicken the pace of constructing our military’s information technology.”
Jiang, who stepped down from his posts as China’s president and head of the ruling Communist Party over the last year, has remained politically influential as chairman of the CMC.
The ongoing troop reductions, he said, conformed with a worldwide “revolution in military affairs” and were necessary for China to compete in a world where new military technologies were rapidly replacing traditional concepts of war.
“At present, with the development and modernization of science and technology, especially information technology, competition in global military affairs has intensified,” Jiang said.
The 1991 Gulf War greatly convinced Chinese military leaders of the need to modernize the PLA, with subsequent US hi-tech military operations in the Balkans and the second Iraqi war further revealing China’s military backwardness.
In his talks at the military meeting, Jiang stressed that troop cuts would remain a basic military policy.
“This round of cuts will mainly be focused on non-combat units in the PLA, like cultural units, hospitals and research institutes,” said You Ji, an expert on the PLA at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia.
The move also aims to make the PLA more “externally oriented,” with its domestic duties, such as disaster relief and maintaining public order, being handed over to some 1.5 million reservists and the one million-strong People’s Armed Police, he said.
“Following the earlier cuts, the present demobilization should bring the number of ground forces down to about 1.8 million…, with ground troops eventually being cut to smaller than 1.5 million,” You said.
“The main idea behind the demobilization is that China needs to keep pace with the ‘revolution in military affairs’, and make the armed forces more capable and more ready to fight hi-tech wars,” he said.
“For this military expenditures will go up next year, despite the troop cuts.”
In March, China announced a nearly 10 percent increase in its annual defense spending, a hike that was a sharp drop from previous years when it rose 17.6 percent from 2001 and 17.9 from between 2000 and 2001.