China's military turns 92

China Commentary by Adam Ni

Hello, I’m Adam Ni, China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney. The comments below are intended for media use. For follow up interviews, you can contact me via email (contact@adamni.com), Whatsapp (+61 40 6262 666) or Signal (+49 151 72059984).

What is going on?

On Thursday, August 1, China will celebrate the 92 anniversary of the founding of its military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This comes at a time of heightened geopolitical tension, mass protests in HK, and growing anxiety about China’s growing military muscle in the region.

What is Beijing’s aim?

Xi Jinping committed China to transform the PLA into a “world-class force” by 2050. For Beijing, there is an urgent need to modernise its military given the multitude of perceived challenges, both internal and external.

Importantly, the Chinese Government sees a strong military as key to safeguarding China’s continued economic development. Indeed, the PLA is becoming a force with a global reach and ambitions in order to advance China’s national interests.

China’s military modernising and reform

Since 2015, China has embarked on a sweeping military reform programme, the biggest since the 1950s. The PLA’s organisational structure and operational model have both undergone fundamental change. The goal was to make the PLA a professional force that can satisfy the complex demands of fighting modern wars.

In addition, China has made massive investments on new military hardware, such as conventional and nuclear missiles, stealth fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles, space-based platforms, and warships. Moreover, China is investing heavily in advanced technologies with military applications, such as hypersonic vehicles, quantum science, and artificial intelligence.

Enduring weaknesses and challenges

Despite modernisation and major reforms, China acknowledges that the PLA still lags behind the United States military. This is because the PLA lacks combat experience, and lags behind in joint operations and power-projection capabilities.

However, the gap is closing fast and the military balance of power in Asia is increasingly shifting towards China. This means that China is more likely to deter US intervention , for example, in a South China Sea or Taiwan scenario.

China’s new defense white paper

Published last Wednesday (July 24), China’s new defense white paper sets out China’s threat perception. It sees the United States, and “separatists” in Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang as key sources of threats for its national security.