The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) is the armed forces of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the People's Republic of China. The PLA consists of five professional service branches: the Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, and the Strategic Support Force.
The PLA is the world's largest military force, with a strength of approximately 2,285,000 personnel, 0.18% of the country's population. In September 2015, Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and the commander-in-chief of the PLA, announced a reduction of the number of military personnel by 300,000. The PLA's insignia consists of a roundel with a red star bearing the Chinese characters for Eight One, referring to the Nanchang uprising which began on August 1, 1927.
The PLA is under the command of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the CPC. It is legally obliged to follow the principle of civilian control of the military, although in practical terms this principle has been implemented in such a way as to ensure the PLA is under the absolute control of the Chinese Communist Party. Its commander in chief is the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (usually the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China as well as Paramount leader). The Ministry of National Defense, which operates under the State Council, does not exercise any authority over the PLA and is far less powerful than the CMC. A system of political officers embedded within the military ensures party authority over the armed forces so that the primary role of the Ministry of Defense is that of a liaison office with foreign militaries rather than a commanding authority. The political and military leadership have made a concerted effort to create a professional military force, the duties of which are restricted to national defence and to the provision of assistance in domestic economic construction and emergency relief. This conception of the role of the PLA requires the promotion of specialised officers who can understand modern weaponry and handle combined arms operations. Units around the country are assigned to one of five Theater commands by geographical location.
Military service is compulsory by law; however, compulsory military service in China has never been enforced due to large numbers of military and paramilitary personnel. In times of national emergency, the People's Armed Police and the People's Liberation Army militia act as a reserve and support element for the PLAGF.
The PLA is one of the fastest growing military forces in the world. It has been rapidly modernising and commissioning new arsenals in recent decades, with significant defence and emerging global power projection capabilities. It boasts the second largest defence budget in the world, although many authorities – including SIPRI and the U.S. Department of Defense – argue that China does not report its real level of military spending, which is allegedly much higher than the official budget.
National military command
The state military system upholds the principle of the CPC's absolute leadership over the armed forces. The party and the State jointly established the CMC that carries out the task of supreme military leadership over the armed forces. The 1954 Constitution stated that the State President directs the armed forces and made the State President the chairman of the Defense Commission. The Defense Commission is an advisory body and does not hold any actual power over the armed forces. On 28 September 1954, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party re-established the CMC as the commanding organ of the PLA. From that time onward, the current system of a joint system of party and state leadership of the military was established. The Central Committee of the Communist Party leads in all military affairs. The State President directs the state military forces and the development of the military forces which is managed by the State Council.
To ensure the absolute leadership of the Communist Party over the armed forces, every level of party committee in the military forces implements the principles of democratic centralism. In addition, division-level and higher units establish political commissars and political organisations, ensuring that the branch organisations are in line. These systems combined the party organisation with the military organisation to achieve the party's leadership and administrative leadership. This is seen as the key guarantee to the absolute leadership of the party over the military.
In October 2014 the PLA Daily reminded readers of the Gutian Congress, which stipulated the basic principle of the Party controlling the military, and called for vigilance as "[f]oreign hostile forces preach the nationalization and de-politicization of the military, attempting to muddle our minds and drag our military out from under the Party's flag."