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PLA 96 - Is It On The Decline? ; By Annunthra K

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Article: 19/2023


China’s People's Liberation Army celebrated its 96th anniversary on 6th August, 2023 .This milestone traces back to the aftermath of the 1927 rebellion, a historic event also known as the Nanchang Uprising. In a remarkable display of courage and determination, a formidable insurgent army of 20,000 overcame daunting odds by prevailing against a defending force of 3,000, thereby seizing control of Nanchang City.

The resonance of the Nanchang Uprising reverberated far beyond its immediate battlefield. This audacious act marked the inaugural shots of armed Communist defiance against the authority of Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang regime. It stood as an unshakable testament to the unwavering resolve of the Communist Chinese Party (CCP) to persist in their revolutionary aspirations. This turning point, with its echoes of bravery, resilience, and sacrifice, etched itself indelibly in history as the moment of the birth of Chinese PLA.

During the 19th Party Congress in 2017, President Xi Jinping set three key aims for the PLA: mechanisation by 2020, informatisation by 2035, and transformation of the Chinese armed forces into a world-class force by 2050. The CMC's November 2020 military document, dubbed the "Chinese People's Liberation Army Joint Operations Outline", highlights the aims of force modernization and personnel quality development. This top-level legislation defines concerns such as 'which wars China will confront and how to fight them' from a system level, as well as how the PLA should "focus on the new situation and new problems of joint operations." Simply said, it is a blueprint for the PLA to comprehend how to conduct integrated joint operations and local/regional warfare using contemporary weapons and available force. President Xi Jinping’s goal of personnel policy modernisation is due to be achieved in 2049.

PLA’S vision:

The PLA's vision has also been updated to reflect shifting global dynamics and China's position. The new vision assigns the PLA three primary responsibilities: "safeguarding China's sovereignty, security, and development interests." The conservation of development interests on a global scale is a new dimension that has expanded the scope of activity. The PLA's modernisation push has been motivated by an understanding of the changing character of combat in a fast changing global scene. Adopting innovative technologies, improving military doctrines, and reforming the organisation to improve operational performance are all part of this. Such advancements have made the PLA more agile, flexible, and adaptable to a wide range of conditions.

In addition to its relentless pursuit of force modernization and comprehensive personnel policy reforms, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has placed a significant emphasis on advancing its integrated joint operations capabilities, strategic mobilisation systems, and the transformative modernization of its armed forces. However, this commitment extends beyond the surface, as China's investment in its strategic arsenal, cyber warfare capabilities, and space endeavours paints a vivid picture of its unwavering dedication to national security.

Beyond the horizon of immediate goals, the PRC's strategic outlook spans a trajectory of calculated foresight. The nation's determined focus on bolstering strategic logistics capabilities, reinforcing its proficiency in amphibious warfare, and fortifying border defence capabilities underscores a long-term vision for safeguarding its interests. This forward-looking approach is indicative of a nation that places paramount importance on maintaining a robust and adaptable defence infrastructure.

Moreover, the PRC's unabated commitment to nurturing cyber capabilities and expanding its presence in the realm of space signifies a recognition of the evolving dimensions of modern warfare. As technology continues to reshape the landscape of conflict, China's investment in cyber and space domains showcases a strategic acumen that aligns its military endeavours with the demands of the digital age.

Initiatives and Modernisation of the PLA:

Currently, after 96 years followed by an eight year carefully curated modernisation process and President Xi Jinping’s single handed transformation, is slowly falling apart, more like fading. It is a well known fact that the PLA’s strength has decreased its army strength to 50% and have been concentrating more on improving the strength of People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF).

The People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) is a vital component of China's national security apparatus. With its dual role in nuclear deterrence and conventional capabilities, the PLARF reinforces China's commitment to safeguarding its interests and maintaining regional stability. The force's technological advancements underscore China's drive for self-reliance and innovation, positioning the PLARF as a dynamic and influential element within the modernising Chinese military landscape. As geopolitical dynamics continue to evolve, the PLARF's role will likely remain central to China's pursuit of a robust and credible defence capability. However, China’s recent rejig in the leadership in the PLARF can bolster the need of questioning the PLA's current position. The recent reorganisation takes on added importance given its timing, following closely behind the puzzling vanishing act of former Foreign Minister Qin Gang and the sudden demise of General Wang Shaojun. General Wang had been at the helm of a crucial division responsible for safeguarding Zhongnanhai, the prestigious nerve centre of China's top-tier leadership.


Following the Malthusian family planning regime which had various policies like One Child, two child and the very new third child policy that was recently introduced by the Chinese government to encourage citizens to have more children. There are various dimensions to the introduction of the three child policy but the major one being “the retirement of soldiers” as they age. China is now a country whose present generation does not have a sibling.

The emphasis today has been more on personnel rather than organisational structures and changes. With an ageing population and people’s hesitation to send their only child to the military fearing death, China will find it difficult to motivate the leftover young population to work for the nation. PRC has been encouraging youngsters to join the military by providing various benefits like a two cycle annual conscription system, modification in the roles and responsibilities of the non-commissioned corps, changes in the recruitment process (finding people who are technologically well versed), and changes in the reservist system.

A wide range of attacks has been implemented against Taiwan by China on a daily basis. Be it sending warships or fighter jets and what not. According to the documentary that was released recently by China, the soldiers can be seen taking an oath to surrender their lives to the country, a direct hit/ giving a hint that China is ready to attack Taiwan. This indeed has provided vague connotations and clear descriptions that China is now preparing the PLA for an attack. These are viewed as a plan to annex Taiwan in or by 2027, according to some scholars.


The multifaceted commitment to military reforms, spanning an eight-year period and still continuing, provides a clear testament to the PRC's unwavering determination to achieve its national security objectives. As the wheels of progress continue to turn, it is evident that the PRC is resolute in its pursuit of a future that is underpinned by modernised, capable, and strategically agile armed forces. Looking ahead, the continuation of these reforms for the foreseeable five to seven years is a potent indicator of China's seriousness in fostering a formidable national defence apparatus. The nation's commitment to these multifarious reforms goes beyond mere symbolism; it reflects a holistic strategy aimed at securing China's interests, deterring potential threats, and ensuring a prosperous and secure future for its citizens.

As the PLA celebrates its 96th year, it does so not only with a history of military achievements but with a future-oriented perspective that sees no deceleration in its relentless pursuit of strategic modernization. Through an unwavering commitment to these comprehensive reforms, China's military trajectory remains steadfast, underscoring its resolute dedication to fulfilling its national security imperatives.

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  2. Retrieved August 14, 2023, from China Aerospace Studies Institute PLA Rocket Force. (2018).

  3. China’s increase in military exercises broadens diplomatic outreach. (2023, August 13). South China Morning Post.

  4. Heightened PLA activity along LAC. (2023, July 28).

  5. The Times of India.

  6. How Severe Are China’s Demographic Challenges? (2016, February 15). ChinaPower Project. buzz of internal strife in

  7. Chinese military is growing. (n.d.). India Today. Retrieved August 14, 2023, from

  8. Jinping replaces leaders of China’s elite nuclear force. (2023, August 1). BBC News.

(Ms. Annunthra K is a research officer at C3S. The views expressed are those of the author and does not reflect the views of C3S.)

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