Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Fog is Lifting on the Chinese Military?

No idea what they're doing here. But if the Chinese have learned to fly, we may be in trouble.
Twice a year, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense releases a white paper to demonstrate its transparency, something the Chinese government faces constant criticism for. The white paper that was released today has been generally celebrated as being a decisive step in the direction of real transparency, as it not only released an official head count of the Chinese armed forces, but went so far as to give a surprisingly detailed description of it's structure. Unofficial numbers have been around for some time, but the People's Liberation Army (PLA), like most other facets of the Chinese government, has made a degree of opacity a cornerstone of their public policy, at least until now.

According to the white paper, the ground forces of the PLA number some 850,000, while the Air Force has a 398,000 people and the Navy boasts 235,000 for a total of 1,483,000 soldiers. This force, the world's largest (by a decent margin), is supported by one of the highest military budgets in the world. It was announced that the 2013 budget would increase by 10.7%, continuing a trend of almost continuous double-digit budget increases over the past 20-odd years.

The disclosure of the structure of the PLA has also been regarded as a major piece of new information. The army has 18 combined corps spread through seven area commands throughout China. The Air Force is divided among the same seven area commands, and the Navy is broken into three distinct fleets. Additionally, some time was taken to describe the Second Artillery, the branch that maintains the Chinese nuclear and conventional missile stockpiles. However, in keeping with China's longtime nuclear policy, the report stopped short of providing an actual count of their nuclear arsenal, something the Russian nuclear establishment has been chafing at for some time.

Seriously, why are they bothering with an Air Force?

Increased clarity or not, this information has done little to allay the fears of China's neighbors, and other interested parties such as the United States, who see this constant expansion as being at odds with the government's repeated claims that it does not seek hegemony (regionally or otherwise). It's sister claim of  having a "purely defensive military strategy" also conflicts with China's increasingly belligerent behavior on the world stage, particularly in its approach to ongoing maritime territorial disputes with Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries.

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