China's Military Turns 80 With Flourish
China marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of its military with fanfare and a public-relations blitz. To show that its military modernization drive is transparent, foreign journalists were invited to a People's Liberation Army base.
Infantry Brigade 196 is one of the People's Liberation Army units charged with defending of China's capital. The country's growing defense budget has helped build new barracks and training facilities for the brigade's 3,500 troops.
China's published military budget for this year is almost $45 billion, up nearly 18 percent over last year. That's the biggest defense budget in Asia, but it's less than 10 percent of published figures for the U.S military budget.
The PLA is the world's largest army, with 2.3 million members, and China points out that it spends about 1/47th of what the U.S. spends on each soldier.
In recent years, China has taken a number of moves to make the PLA more professional. It has built its own ROTC program to recruit better educated officers. It ordered the PLA to divest its extensive business holdings. And it has also reduced the number of political indoctrination classes.
But a main theme of the anniversary is that the ruling communist party will not allow the PLA to become too depoliticized. The party, after all, founded the PLA amid civil war in 1927.
And Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan wrote in a recent article that suggestions that the government take over the PLA from the party are tantamount to subversion.
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