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China to Cut 200,000 from Military - 2003-09-01


China has announced more cuts to its military, currently the largest standing armed force in the world. Former President Jiang Zemin, who heads China's Central Military Commission, announced the government plans to cut 200,000 troops from its force by the end the year 2005. That is in addition to a reduction of a half-million troops announced earlier this year. The newest cuts would bring the number of Chinese troop force below two million.

Mr. Jiang made the announcement during a visit to the National Defense Science and Technology University in China's southern Hunan province. The official Xinhua news agency quotes Mr. Jiang as saying the cuts are part of an effort to streamline the military and introduce newer technology. Most of the cuts are expected to occur in the largest force, the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Western military analysts such as Robert Karniol, Asia-Pacific editor of Jane's Defence Weekly in Bangkok, say the latest reduction is part of long streamlining that has been going in China's military for years. Mr. Karniol said it is a process of professionalizing a largely obsolete and somewhat disorganized force. "The PLA is reducing its strength to get stronger, not to weaken itself. There is a great deal of room for improvement and it is a process so complicated that it will take them decades to implement fully. But part of that, in terms of the force reduction that has been under way for several years, involves removing from the PLA's role or mission a number of activities that are not really the focus of a military force - things like border guard duties, or internal security activities," he said.

There are few concerns about unemployment among soldiers who would be discharged. In the past, a large number of those who have been cut loose from the army have simply changed uniforms and been absorbed by the People's Armed Police, a force that is a million strong and growing.

Analysts say the streamlining of the military and the concurrent growth of the civilian police force is a reflection of China's long-term ambitions to be a regional and, eventually, global power.

Defense analysts think Chinese military spending has been rising significantly year after year, along with overall government spending. U.S. officials say China's military budget last year exceeded $55 billion.